Every once in a while, I can appreciate a formulaic Hollywood story, if it offers up enough charm to make the predictability palatable. School of Rock is such a movie – almost.
I like Jack Black, but here he just plies his usual shtick: though his character's name is Dewey Finn, it might as well be Jack Black. Dewey is a part-time rocker and full-time slacker who gets kicked out of his band just weeks before a local Battle of the Bands contest, which he insists he not only would have won, but would have made the money to pay back rent to his long-suffering wimp roommate (Mike White, who wrote the screenplay). Down on his luck, Dewey poses as said roommate when an offer to be a substitute teacher at a private elementary school comes through over the phone. He somehow gets away with teaching his class absolutely nothing, until he hears them playing music and gets the idea to turn them into a tight rock band that he can take with him to the contest.
All this sounds like a perfectly dreadful movie, except that Black is an agreeable presence, the film has a soft, tweedy look to it, and the young actors cast as Dewey's students are great. Kudos to the casting directors. It's not easy to cast kids, and the gang they came up with is perfect.
Joan Cusack also shines as the school's high-strung principal with a taste for Stevie Nicks. It's rather nice that at least the film doesn't make her character hook up with Black, but White's story otherwise adheres so closely to Hollywood formula that I wish he sneaked in a little more subversiveness. This is, after all, the guy who wrote and starred in the disturbing Chuck & Buck. (By the way, not only is White's own character underwritten, but talented cult comic Sarah Silverman is wasted in a simplistic role as his castrating bitch girlfriend.) Oh well.
Nevertheless, School of Rock is likable fluff, and it's sure to score high with fans of Black and/or people with a fondness for '70s hard rock. I put myself more squarely in the latter category; my friend Thomas, with whom I watched the movie, never cared for the likes of AC/DC or Led Zeppelin, so I suppose he was predetermined to not enjoy the film. But in my book, any movie that can accurately reference Rick Wakeman's keyboard solo in Yes's "Roundabout" deserves at least some credit.