In the world of music fandom, there are the casual admirers who call it “rock,” and the amped-up, wild-eyed fanatics who prefer “RAWK.” Dewey Finn (Jack Black), the maniacal musician at the center of Richard Linklater’s charmingly exuberant School of Rock, falls headfirst into the latter category. A self-anointed guitar god extraordinaire, Dewey drives a smoke-spewing van plastered with Godsmack and Led Zeppelin stickers, talks incessantly about his abundant artistic gifts, and indulges in orgiastic guitar solos during every live performance. He’s a true believer with a screw loose and a severe blind spot when it comes to assessing his own talent.
When Dewey is unceremoniously kicked out of his band and his roommates Ned (Mike White) and Patty (Sarah Silverman) begin demanding rent money, the roly-poly wannabe rock star decides to earn some cash by impersonating Ned and taking a substitute teaching position at elite preparatory academy Horace Green. Unfortunately, the uptight, obsessively driven 10-year-olds who populate his class are less interested in recess and slacking off than their incompetent new teacher had hoped. But when Dewey discovers that the bookish types in the class are also classically trained musical prodigies, he seizes the opportunity to trick them into being his backing band for an upcoming battle of the bands contest.
School of Rock takes flight as the spastic Dewey puts the kids through Rock Boot Camp, teaching them the theatrical gestures and anti-establishment attitude (“Fight da man”) characteristic of a true rock deity. Black’s Dewey—like Black himself when performing with real-life band Tenacious D—is a manic, Pillsbury Dough Boy buffoon in perpetual whirlybird overdrive, and he exudes such an infectious passion for rock n’ roll that his devilish antics (most of which involve keeping the kid’s rock rehearsals secret from Joan Cusak’s stressed out principal Mullins) seem genuinely liberating. Dewey’s entire body seems electrified by music. As he tells his pestering roommates, “I service society by rocking.”
Working from Mike White’s sharp script, Linklater maintains the film’s turbo-charged momentum by juxtaposing Black’s hyperactivity with a cast of refreshingly unaffected (and musically accomplished) kids who can really kick out the jams. Despite a hoary plot turn lurking around every corner, Linklater deftly navigates these potential narrative pitfalls by choosing to hint at, rather than hammer home, the film’s lessons about the life-affirming power of music. Overbearing parents never devolve into abusive monsters; overweight children with performance anxiety never clam up on stage; Dewey, a notorious spotlight hog, never disappoints his kids by stealing the show. School of Rock tackles its familiar formula with a welcome mixture of reverence, intelligence, and cliché moderation.
If the film occasionally resorts to unnecessary stereotyping for laughs (did we really need the effeminate boy who wants to be the band’s wardrobe designer?), its admiration for the classic rock of the ‘60s and ‘70s is both heartfelt and contagious. In Linklater’s riotous comedy, the desire to crank out a thunderous power-chord or burst forth with a bombastic drum solo resides inside both the young and—in the case of principal Mullins, a closet Stevie Nicks fan—the old. The climactic concert, featuring Dewey decked out in Angus Young-inspired shorts, thrillingly confirms his maxim that one great rock show can change the world. For those responsible for the joyous School of Rock, we salute you.
Absolutely gorgeous, and I'll go out on a limb here and say that this is the best video transfer I've ever seen Paramount Home Video put out. I spotted edge haloes only a handful of times, and even then they appeared during scenes where characters were heavily lit from behind. Also, I dare you to find a compression artifact in the entire film. Blacks are solid and shadow delineation is top-notch, but it's the impressive depth and range of the color scale that makes this a true eye-popper. As for the Dolby Digital surround track, it's pretty much what you'd expect from a film called School of Rock.
First is a fun commentary track with Jack Black and director Richard Linklater. If you thoroughly enjoy the film's opening title sequence (inspired by Scorpio Rising, but you knew that right?), then you probably thought they were going to have a credit appear on the hand of the guy who receives the stamp. (According to Linklater, the credit would have been too small.) Sorely missing here is Mike White (apparently he had the flu), but this is an addictive track and Black dutifully compensates for Linklater's more laid-back commentary. This is good comedy! Next is the Kids' Kommentary, featuring a half dozen of the film's young stars. Let's just say it's kute for about five seconds before it gets noticeably shrill. The "Lessons Learned in School of Rock" is a punchy making-of featurette cleverly disguised as a lesson plan. Clocking in at over 24 minutes, the documentary never exhausts its welcome. Rounding out the disc is Jack Black's breathless pitch to Led Zeppelin to use the band's "Immigrant Song" in the film, the "School Of Rock" music video, a throwaway kids' video diary from the Toronto Film Festival, a theatrical trailer and previews for Paycheck and Stepford Wives (how many people think it too closely resembles the tone of the Resident Evil: Apocalypse trailer?).
Yes, it's an excellent DVD package, but most importantly: Now you can watch VH1's "Save the Music" PSA whenever you want. Rock on!