Please welcome our newest contributor to Ten Years Ago: Films in Retrospective, one Kelly Nora Buettner. A Geeks Who Drink quizmaster based out of Colorado Springs, I met her at QMCON last month, and our mutual interest in musicals, drag queens, and the works of Woody Allen made us fast friends. For her first re-view, she’s taking on the Richard Linklater/Mike White mainstream foray The School of Rock.
The School of Rock is a movie I have seen a thousand times. In my notes, I quoted every coming-of-age school movie, from the Carpe Diems of the Dead Poets Society to the Gotta Save the Rec Centers of Sunday School Musical (a rip-off of High School Musical) and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (the name that spawned a thousand parody sequels). And yet, School of Rock was an absolute pioneer of its day. It introduced Jack Black as a credible children’s entertainer and made a children’s movie that didn’t really feature children.
When I heard that this re-view was still up for grabs, I was ecstatic. I have always loved Jack Black and all of his high-energy, bombastic mannerisms. I mean, the man goes into every role with the power and excitement of Robin Williams when he was half-human, half-cocaine. He just has this lust for life that I have always envied (and to be honest, been totally turned on by. Jack Black is firmly in my wheelhouse, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I’M SAYING). Joan Cusack has always been a favorite of mine as well, and I remember that even though she was uptight as “the man” in this film, we got to see her talents for sweetness as well as her loud and memorable voice. I saw this particular film around the time of my 14th birthday, just when I was starting to realize that watching the amount of kids movies that I did was not going to make me very “cool,” and yet the other movies I watched (Woody Allen films, early musicals, and anything and everything with young Marlon Brando) weren’t exactly going to make me many friends either. I remember watching Jack Black prance around stage making silly faces with the constant pied-piper-esque encouragement for kids to ROCK! And even though these kids were in 5th grade, I felt as though I was still one of them, if only for a brief moment. This film really seemed to have pushed a love of rock music on the up and coming generation, and it took good turns and bad. Good, because the art form created a bond that old and young alike could love, but bad because of the oversaturation, to the point that everything that sat still long enough had to be emblazoned with Led Zeppelin album covers and Beatles phrases. To reach the kids, rock had to become thoroughly corporate (although that particular fight had also been fought during the ’90s and the surge of MTV, which Dewey himself decries during the film). But at the end of the day, Rock was also something that allowed grown-ups to be kids themselves, which truly justifies this movie.
Dewey Finn is a 30-something Big Kid who lives with his roommate, a substitute teacher and former rocker, Ned Shneebly (played by the adorable-yet-bad Mike White) and Ned’s ball-breaking girlfriend (played by Sarah Silverman, right before her Jesus is Magic days). He’s just gotten kicked out of his own band (which features the incomparable talent yet stuck-in-eternal-youth Adam Pascal of Rent fame) for being a showoff. I have in my notes, “Yeah, that guy would be good as a backup/rhythm guitarist. He’ll never overshadow me.” Which is absolutely true. Who looks at Jack Black and thinks that that guy would be okay with hanging in the background? Either way, kicked out of the band right before the Battle of the Bands was set to make him $20,000, and owing over $2000 dollars in rent currently, Dewey is desperate for something to make him money without sacrificing the ROCK. I have to say, they actually do a good job of making us sympathize with a character that almost all of us would absolutely DESPISE in real life. Every single one of us knows this guy (or some version of him). The loser who really does not understand the concept of money, and is always talking about how “The Man” or “Society” or “Corporations” or “Drug Offenses” are getting him down, as though free agency doesn’t exist and behind every broken guitar string or stubbed toe is a bald fat cat behind a shiny desk rubbing his hands together with glee.
One day, while trying to come up with a way to form a new band, a phone call comes in to Dewey’s apartment begging for Ned to substitute teach at the prestigious prep school, Forest Green. This is truly a sign of the times, and where the film could have taken a very sinister turn. This school is specifically stated as being a very prestigious prep school, with tuition being $15,000 a year. If I could capitalize numbers, I would, because the tuition is $15,000 a year, and yet they don’t have their own substitutes on staff. At the very least, there should be some form of fingerprinting, background checking, “Hey, are you the guy?”-ing. But nope, just show up to any random prep school and say you’re the substitute, and BAM! 650 a week. Our film happened right in the heart of the Catholic Priest scandals, so it is kind of mind-boggling that it got away with this level of trickery in this time. Yes, the parents are outraged and angry at the school, but Dewey runs away from a security guard right after his liar’s reveal, and then faces no jail time. None. Not even a nod toward a lawsuit.
This, I felt, was really the biggest weak point for me in the film. Because, ultimately, the film does not hold that closely to much of a plot. There are many long scenes of Dewey realizing the kids can play instruments, picking out his bandmates, and teaching them. This is still a good thing in a way, though, as it is as close as we peons will ever get to just hanging out with Jack Black for any long stretch of time. The Director, Richard Linklater (of Dazed and Confused and Slacker fame) is definitely present in the heart of this film. Linklater was once quoted as saying that his films were a study in “the youth rebellion continuum” and he does show us a kind of rebellion. Not the rebellion of the kids (although they do rebel a little) because they are kids and thus are ultimately terrible at acting, largely. No, it is the rebellion of Dewey against the system that says that he has to get a job he hates to do the thing that he loves. This movie also sparked a nationwide introduction of Rock and Roll camps (which I think is its greatest legacy) and a slew of “kids coming together to form a band” movies and shows (its greatest shame). In fact, I have a theory that says that School of Rock is in some way responsible for Hannah Montana, which would truly be its greatest shame.
At the end of the day, I still feel that this film holds up. The casting director for the children largely went for singing/playing talent more then they went for acting talent, which does leave us with some very awkward/bland reactions on the part of the kids (especially Zack, our lead guitarist, who has trouble getting his voice to sound anything other than tired and bored), but the other members of this cast sell their little hearts out, managing to cover the trouble that the kids have. Obviously, the heart of this film is far and away the performance from Jack Black, who is the most fun teacher that ever taught anything. He has this way of cheering the kids on that feels like he’s secretly cheering you on, and that was just the best. The film reminds us that being passionate about something is the most important thing in life, and that’s a moral I can get behind.
For those about to rock, We Salute You.
-This movie was just before iPhones and features precious, adorable early smartphone texting with HUGE letters.
-When Dewey is telling Ned that Ned sold out and forgot about the MUSIC, MAN, one of my favorite lines from SLC Punk came to mind: “Son, we didn’t sell out, we bought in.”
-They absolutely missed an opportunity for a “The Wall” reference, and I was distracted for part of the movie because I just wanted a Pink Floyd reference in there so badly.
-This movie’s enduring legacy: Gifs of the painfully gay kid saying “you’re tacky and I hate you.”
-This movie also existed in a time right before Facebook existed, but when Google did exist, so I’m still at a loss that they, at no point, looked this guy up.
-Poor, poor Sarah Silverman, reduced to a shrieking harpy who nevertheless has great points.
-Tiny, teensy weensy Speed Levitch cameo.
-The first movie that attempted to make bowties cool. Almost, movie, almost.