School of Rock needs to get an education

Grade B

So, if Richard Linklater, Jack Black and Joan Cusack collaborated on a film, what would the fruits of their collective labours be? Golden! Hilarious! Or so I hoped. These three are some of my favourite names in movie-making, so my expectations for School of Rock, Linklater’s latest venture, were high. Unfortunately, somewhere between Mike White’s screenplay and Black’s distinctive physical antics being played out on the screen for 108 glorious minutes, I lost interest.

Normally, Black’s characters are the guys in the background whose large bursts of comedy wedge themselves with perfect timing between the main characters and their plots. Remember his pitch-perfect delivery as Barry in High Fidelity (2000)? Before the theatre lights dimmed, my viewing partner and I weren’t convinced of Black’s capability to carry a film as the main act and suspected that his brilliance rested in his ability to provide the perfect comic relief – the zany foil – opposite whatever leading man has the limelight.

That suspicion was confirmed as Black settled into his role of unsuccessful rocker hack turned unqualified but completely loveable and inspirational substitute teacher to a class full of uncommonly talented ten-year-olds. Jack is delicious as a sidekick and though he’s charming enough throughout this movie, his energy alone wasn’t enough to deliver consistent big-time laughs.

As far as scripts go, there’s nothing unconventional or profound or even all that interesting about this film. If you’ve seen a feel-good movie where the kids have to override their narrow-minded parents’ objections and prove themselves in some sort of unusual and preferably musical way before, you can expect the same from School of Rock. Nuanced it ain’t. But since I haven’t decided exactly where the fault lies, I won’t use the word “formulaic.” Oops.

Linklater carries on his self-described “youth rebellion continuum” line of filmmaking in an uncharacteristically pat and unfortunately transparent way. Previous films include Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused (1993) and the refreshingly beautiful Waking Life (2001). Following in the footsteps of such imaginative and out-of-the-mainstream successes, his latest choice is a bit of a mystery.

The movie’s strengths, as I’ve said, lie entirely with performances. Joan Cusack is great as Principal Rosalie Mullins, but she’s always rocksteady-reliable and it is to her credit that she takes a two-dimensional character and delivers some of the films only laugh-out-loud moments.

Ultimately, whatever charm and off-kilter hilarity that Jack Black has to offer (and he has so much to give!) just isn’t enough to keep this film afloat and its ability to keep audience laughter buoyant falls short. The kids he teaches, however, are sumthin’ else. The talent you see as each child learns to rock out with Black is genuine. These are massively talented kids, both onscreen and off. It is on the coat-tails of these rosy-cheeked ing


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