How Jack Black Restored My Faith in Rock and Roll: The School of Rock
By Seana Sperling
November 1st, 2003
Things That Annoy Me: The trials of not having an aisle seat
The place was already fairly crowded, so I had to squeeze in between two behemoths (possibly professional wrestlers). One was munching popcorn so loudly that it sounded amplified, and the other was trying to elbow me off the armrest. Hmmm, I thought. My master plan had certainly gone awry. I searched the theater for another option. With the exception of some reserved seating, there was nothing but the neck-breaking front row.
I watched in envy as the reserved aisle seat in the row behind mine was finally taken. (I had been planning to jump seats as the lights went down.) Of course one can never predict the actions or reactions of the surrounding crowd, so danger could lurk anywhere. In fact as I would find out later, the woman next to that seat (and almost directly behind me) would alternately clap, Ooh and awe, talk to her friend and snort with laughter as if on a three-minute rotation. A couple of times her outbursts were so loud that she startled me. Everything made her applaud, snort and converse. I think she must have been a plant by Paramount. (Or just a plant.)
Even with all of these distractions, I was able to enjoy this little slip of a comedy mostly due to the talented Jack Black who stole every scene.
When I first heard of The School of Rock I thought, “Since when is Richard Linklater directing a family film?” No need for alarm, however. The School of Rock falls into the same category of family musicals as Jon Water’s Hairspray, so the music is great, but it’s also full of the irreverent Jack Black and his frantic, comic energy.
The role is a perfect fit for Black, blending his guerrilla-style comedy with his musical talent. (Black is part of the duo Tenacious D.) In the first scene, Black is performing with his band and regales the unsuspecting crowd with a lengthy guitar solo. He then rips his shirt off and stage dives into their midst. This took me back to a 1989 Poison Idea show I caught at some VFW hall: the beefy, half-dressed minstrels were throwing beer on the crowd and the sound of their shredded vocal chords rasping out indistinguishable lyrics was only eclipsed by the feverish tempo of the three second songs played at decibel levels reserved for aliens. (Ah, hearing loss in the middle ear. I miss it.)
In the film, Black plays an unemployed musician who poses as a substitute teacher to make rent. On the minus side, it’s very situational and reads like a film school draft: What is Dewey’s need? Rent money, fame and fortune. What is his obstacle? The Man. There are some stock characters as well, including the uptight authority figure played by Joan Cusack and the overachiever Summer (Miranda Cosgrove). However, as conventional as the story may be, Black’s presence keeps things very lively. In fact some of the audience members surrounding me could scarcely contain themselves and would alternately clap, exclaim and applaud throughout the film. (I was about to hit them.) Black radiates his love for music as he instructs his class in “Rock and Roll 101” complete with guitar tributes to AC/DC and Black Sabbath. The dialogue also fits well with Black’s persona. According to the press notes, screenwriter Mike White penned The School of Rock specifically for Black who he has had a friendship with for some time.
Although Black steals most the scenes, Mike White, Cusack (whose repressed Principal Mullins gets funnier and funnier as the film progresses) and the kids round out the cast nicely. Both Robert Tsai (Lawrence) and Maryam Hassan (Tomika) made their film debut with The School of Rock and their shy and awkward characters ring as genuine as a Junior High school dance. However green to the screen some of the kids may be, they are professional musicians and demonstrate their prowess throughout the film. In fact the first time Hassan sang I got chills. Linklater worked with Jim O’Rourke of Sonic Youth and cast the kids in the band for their musical talent. Although not destined for any Academy nominations, The School of Rock is an uplifting way to spend a couple of hours.