Strike Up the Band
A wildly hilarious Jack Black brings new meaning to the term "tour de force" in School of Rock. His energetic performance as a failed rock musician pretending to be a substitute teacher blew me away. Because of Black's amusing work in previous movies like Orange County and Shallow Hal, I was already a fan before seeing this terrific comedy -- but I never expected to be so thoroughly entertained by his musical talent, mostly because "metal rock" is not among my favorite types of music.
Therefore, in a sense, I was educated by Black in this film -- just like the little prep school students he instructed about "The Theory of Rock" and "Rock Appreciation" as he filled the chalkboard with in-depth information about his area of expertise. But most of all, I was taken in by his passion for the subject and by his enthusiastic musical demonstrations. At one point in the movie, I even wanted to be in the band he was creating -- or at least receive an assignment with the rest of the class!
I can't help wondering if screenwriter Mike White (who also plays Black's best friend here) has been influenced by Kenneth Eble's philosophy of education. An ardent advocate of inspired teaching, Eble wrote in The Aims of College Teaching, "A manifest love of subject is often the key to the mystery of how even bad teachers can still affect some students greatly. Despite a curmudgeonly manner or wanton disregard for ordinary teaching skill, the instructor conveys how deeply he or she is engaged in the subject matter and what it is like to have and sustain that love."
Because I'm a former teacher, I know working together on a class project can also bring out the best in most students. Black's character doesn't realize this at first. In fact, he wants the kids to spend their time doing anything they wish as long as they don't bother him. He's only interested in collecting a paycheck to help with the rent and other bills. Then, after accidentally hearing the students play a classical number in their music class, he begins to teach them about "Rock." "You don't know Led Zeppelin or AC/DC? What are they teaching kids these days," he complains vigorously.
Forming the group into a rock band, Black announces it's a "class project" to get ready for an important competition. He swears the youngsters to secrecy. Of course, we know the "important competition" is really a Battle of the Bands where Black wants to show up his old band members.
Under Black's manic direction, students get into the swing of things quickly. One learns to play the guitar like a pro rocker (power stance and all), another beats the drums with a vengeance. The back-up singers work up cool choreography for their numbers, and the keyboard artist soon loosens up as does the base guitarist (who's trained on the cello). Assigned groupies create t-shirts; other students handle security and roadie technical duties. The smartest student becomes, you guessed it, the band's manager. Everyone feels his or her job is important. Believe it or not, there's LEARNING taking place, and Black has become an awesome teacher.
Many an obstacle faces our hero and his talented group before their Battle of the Bands appearance, not the least of which is the school's uptight principal (Joan Cusack). The trick to winning her over involves Stevie Nicks -- but I don't want to spoil that scene for you. Cusack (It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie) can grimace almost as convincingly as Black, so they make a humorous pair to watch in their time on camera together. Dealing with the parents is more difficult. They have higher ambitions for their children. Rocket scientists, not "Rock" stars, would be more acceptable to them.
School of Rock ends with a rousing musical finale followed by an equally rousing encore. That sound you hear is me -- still applauding.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "PG-13" for some rude humor and drug references. Reviewed after sneak preview on Saturday, September 27, 2003.)