Black is back and rocking the film world


You’ve seen the story hundreds of times; unqualified and irresponsible man takes a position of leadership through deceptive means, brings a novel and fresh approach to the profession and winds up learning about himself.

Like rock and roll in the 21st century, there’s not a lot of uniqueness here.

What is surprising in “School Of Rock,” however, is how the story is told – it’s good, very good, and a wonderful surprise, like turning the dial on your car radio and finding a song that really clicks.

I must admit I’m not much of a Jack Black fan. His brand of lunacy is just tiresome to me. Like an epic rock ballad from the 70s, he is often overlong, over-dramatic and all over the place, but there have been a couple of times I’ve found him funny. The first one was in 2000’s “High Fidelity,” with John Cusak, as a disenchanted and dysfunctional clerk in a record store and wannabe rock star. And in this movie, as a disenchanted and dysfunctional fake substitute teacher and wannabe rock star.

Hmmm, maybe it’s the rock and roll.

Black plays Dewey Finn, a lead guitarist and moocher who’s been kicked out of the band he started right before a major Battle of the Bands contest.

Dewey is then told by his substitute teaching roommate, Ned Schneebly (Mike White), to pay the rent or he’s out on the street. Dewey intercepts a call for Ned to teach at one of the city’s top prep schools and poses as Ned to get the gig. Insanity and high jinks follow. It ain’t heavy, it’s just a movie.

Aside from Black’s presence, what makes this movie so good is the direction of the movie, by Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “Waking Life”). The movie could easily have slipped and fallen into stereotypes and generalities, but it never does. Each character, while maybe shallow and conventional, is at least human and we begin to care about them, especially the kids.

The makers of the movie were smart enough to realize that, to make a good movie with a lot of kids, you need to find some good kids, and they do. Each one of the kids is terrific. Playing rich kids believably is probably even harder than playing poor kids, and these kids do a bang-up job. It’s especially good when you realize that the kids are really playing the musical instruments.

The movie is really about the music. Black is passionate about rock and roll, and when he’s passionate he’s inspired, and when he’s inspired the movie is inspired.

For example, in a scene when he first discovers the talent of the kids in his class, and he sets them each up at an instrument, his sense of excitement is palpable.

You’d think he’d just rediscovered the Beatles. At that moment, in his excitement, he’s not thinking of fame or riches.

What he’s thinking about is the music and, in the words of Dewey Finn, “It’s all about the music.”