School of Rock (2003) – Review

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Directed by Richard Linklater

Written by Mike White

Cast: Jack Black, Mike White, Joan Cusack, Robert Tsai, Joey Gaydos Jr., and Maryam Hassan

Length: 1 hour and 48 minutes

Genre: Comedy, family, music

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Description from IMDB:
“After being kicked out of a rock band, Dewey Finn becomes a substitute teacher of a strict elementary private school, only to try and turn it into a rock band.”

Due to his penchant for showmanship, twenty-minute guitar solos, and partying, Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is kicked out of his band. To add insult to injury, his roommate Ned (Mike White) demands Dewey pay his share of the rent or move out. Dewey decides to pose as Ned, who is a substitute teacher, at a local private school after the principal (Joan Cusack) calls and offers a well-paying job. While teaching (or rather, telling the kids to have recess since he is hungover), Dewey realizes that the children are musically gifted, especially those that play the instruments used in a rock band. He decides to trick the them into creating a new band to win the upcoming battle of the bands, but is able to become a sort of mentor in the process.

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Much of School of Rock takes place within the classrooms of Horace Green Preparatory. The halls are clean, the student dressed in uniforms, and everyone keeps to a tight schedule. Dewey is a bit of a slob who doesn’t work, drives a van that coughs black smoke from its tailpipe, and sleeps on a mattress on the floor with open containers of uneaten food nearby. The school and Dewey exist in two separate worlds and, as such, have difficulty melding together. Upon entering the classroom and hearing the children’s musical talent, he uses the false promise of preparing for a state-wide school competition to fool the children into going along. Dewey gives lessons on rock n’ roll bands, history, culture, songs, stage moves, and many other topics in order to bring the children up to speed. They work on soundproofing the room for practices and even set up security measures so that they aren’t discovered.

Dewey is inadvertently able to mentor the children and help them through their struggles. Lawrence (Robert Tsai), the pianist, doesn’t think he is cool enough, but Dewey reassures him that being in the band will make him so. Zack (Joey Gaydos Jr.) has difficulty expressing his frustration at his intimidating father, so Dewey leads a class on bullying and emboldens him to be able to write his own song. Tomika (Maryam Hassan), a girl with a beautiful voice but body image issues, doesn’t speak up when Dewey asks for singers and is afraid that people won’t like her when they see her singing on a stage. Dewey is able to help these children through through his willingness to accept others that is part of his rock n’ roll philosophy.

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In retrospect, this looks like it could be a live-action movie adaptation of a Guitar Hero game.

Dewey is a strange character because his actions are self-centered, yet he is able to affect the children for good. He is childlike, goofy, and this suits the tone of the movie. He builds lie upon lie and manipulates others to get what he wants, and this would be far less identifiable if he weren’t so benevolent in nature. Yes, he is selfish, but he learns through his time with the kids that though his initial intent was self-serving, the outcome doesn’t have to be.

As befits the title, the soundtrack of the film plays an integral part in the story; songs by rock bands Cream, the Ramones, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and David Bowie, among others, play in the background during montages of the kids practicing and learning more about the musical genre. The students also make reference to many rock icons in their outfits during the battle of the bands performance at the end of the film; Jack Black wearing a schoolboy outfit like Angus Young from ACDC, Zack wearing a top hat like guitarist Slash from Guns N’ Roses are just two that I noticed.

I remember seeing School of Rock shortly after it came out, and two years later began my own journey in learning to play the guitar. I was in the target demographic of the film and it was definitely one of the major influences of who I would be in junior high and high school. It remains one of my favorite movies partly due to that nostalgia, but I think there is always something attractive about seeing the young impacted by what has come before them. I listened to a lot of the bands that would shape me as a guitar player due to their pseudo-recommendation through this film, and can credit the fact that I own two copies of Led Zeppelin IV on vinyl to it. Music has an amazing ability to connect people, whether it includes words or not, and I think that is also what makes the movie work. The man and these children come from two completely different worlds, but they are able to connect through their love for music and its ability to grant us catharsis. I think there is always something to be learned from watching a good movie, as is the case when attending School of Rock.

Verdict: 3 musical manipulations out of 5

Recommended for: Children 13 years and older, fans of Jack Black, fans of classic rock, those who enjoy formulated screenplays, people who already dislike Sarah Silverman, and teenagers.

Not recommended for: Children 12 years and younger, those who dislike Jack Black, those who dislike scatting, or musicians who can’t help but notice when people aren’t really playing their instruments in a movie.

The images featured in this post can be found through the hyperlink below.
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15 thoughts on “School of Rock (2003) – Review

  1. Haha, “People who dislike Sarah Silverman.” I watched this movie in high school, and I revisit it from time to time. It’s not the best movie ever made, and if anyone besides Jack Black would have landed the main role, it wouldn’t have been good at all. It’s in that range of movies that if you don’t watch it at a certain age first, you’ll never enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think he definitely carries the film, but if memory serves me right, he was who they had in mind when writing the part. It definitely rides a fine line and I think being in the age group of the kids defines the impact it has (or doesn’t have) on a viewer.


  2. A favorite of mine too. I watched it with the girls this Christmas. Jack Black is weird and delightful. I agree with you, he makes the movie. It’s not the best movie, but it is full of charm and nostalgia.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was just thinking about writing a post about how School of Rock influenced my music taste as a kid, so I decided to search if anyone had written a review. I’m glad I came across yours – I really enjoyed it. I also felt inspired to start learning to play the guitar after this movie!

    Liked by 1 person

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