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School of Rock

The kind of twisted, manic energy that Jack Black embodies cannot be crowbarred into a screenplay. He cannot be simply dropped into a movie and expected to fit. He's too much himself in everything he does.

However, when a script is written for him, designed to harness his powers for good, we can be treated to a movie like School Of Rock. Damn, it's good stuff.

I mean seriously, I'm having a really hard time thinking of something to complain about. True, it is formulaic. I knew exactly what was going to happen, there were no surprises, and the characters, though well performed, were all pretty much stock. I just don't care! I felt all bouncy and happy on the way out to my car, and I haven't had a warm fuzzy like that in ages.

Not that this movie is sticky sweet sunshine and lollypops. Jack Black is still Jack Black, and he and the chilluns deliver warmth with a nice edge to it.

Jack plays Dewey Finn, one of those developmentally arrested teenagers who wake up one day to find themselves in their mid-thirties, broke, and with no prospects. Adding insult to injury, he's just been kicked out of his band. Poor Dewey. All he wants to do is rock.

Dewey's pushover roommate, goth rocker turned substitute teacher Ned (screenwriter Mike White), is feeling the pressure from his whip-cracking girlfriend to oust Dewey for not paying rent. Dewey is presented with the ultimatum, pay up or get out, so he latches on to the first opportunity that presents itself. He impersonates Ned to land a substitute gig at a prestigious elementary school captained by uptight Joan Cusack.

Slouching into this group of upper-class uniformed kiddies, Dewey declares permanent recess, much to the chagrin of Summer (Miranda Cosgrove) one of those little overachievers whose sense of self worth is measured in gold stars. His goal is to slack through enough time as a teacher to pay for rent, but when he discovers that some of the kids have musical skills, he molds them into pre-teen rockers and enters them in the Battle of the Bands.

Ah, that good old plot device, the Battle of the Bands.

Under the guise of a class project, Dewey assigns a role to each kid in the class. In addition to musicians, he discovers a talented lighting designer, roadies, backup singers, and even groupies. Summer becomes a band manager Tommy Motolla would fear.

Perhaps because of his sudden responsibility for the rock education of his students, Dewey learns about the people in his band, and how much they have to offer, something he'd never really done before. He turns from a dominating despot of rock into a nurturing rock-guru, from "It's my band, do as you're told" to, "It's our band, let's vote."

Jack Black may be the star, but the kids more than hold their own. The characters are well defined, if stereotypical, and each young actor plays it to the hilt. Particular favorites of mine were Kevin Clark as the rebellious drummer, Kevin; Robert Tsai as Lawrence the piano prodigy turned rockin' keyboardist, and Rebecca Brown as the coolly silent bassist. Miss Brown is going to be ridiculously hot some day, and I only hope she uses that power for the betterment of humanity.

I have yet to find out for sure if they're playing their own instruments. If they weren't, they did a damn good job of faking it.

Speaking of stereotypes, Brian Falduto plays Billy, the band's stylist, possibly the first gay ten year old in an American movie. (Let me know if I'm wrong on this, and Ma Vie En Rose doesn't count, it's French. Good, but French.) Seriously though, to have a ten-year-old play all the lisping, sequined, gay stereotypes for laughs is pretty subversive now that I think about it. I can't help but wonder if they're gonna take some flack for this, even though there is nothing mean spirited or offensive about it. Though in searching Google news, I've found almost no mention of it. Maybe I'm just paranoid.

Granted, School of Rock has some flaws. The timeline is mushy, Ned sets a deadline of a week for Dewey to get rent or get out, and that comes and goes without a murmur. I also found it hard to swallow that a control-freak principal like Cusack's Rosalie Mullins wouldn't be monitoring the class of a teacher she clearly has misgivings about.

But overall I was willing to forgive the script's few flaws because I had such a good time. The soundtrack was brilliant and effective, the casting was ideal, and I came out of the theatre wondering if it was time to dust off the guitar in my closet.


Marin Carpenter

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