Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2007

Going Back to the School of Rock

By David Luhrssen
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¬† Confession: I blew it. I didnít bother seeing School of Rock when it came out in 2003 because the trailer looked silly and smarmy and I cynically decided that director Richard Linklater just wanted to make money in between artier projects and because almost every Hollywood comedy is dumb and dumber still.

So the other night I had the opportunity to watch the School of Rock DVD and with a shrug of mild indifference I settled in. Itís been a while since Iíve laughed as hard. Mind you, School of Rock wonít make any great films of the 21st century list 93 years from now, when critics and scholars begin to work out their end-of-the-epoch rosters. Iím pretty sure of that. But like a good Laurel and Hardy flick, Iím also pretty sure that much of School of Rock will remain funny even when references to Black Sabbath and AC/DC will puzzle most viewers.

The sheer loopiness of Jack Blackís rock hero wannabe, Dewey Finn, and the preposterous situation he gets himself into, will continue to be funny. At least I bet it will. Kicked out of the failing band he founded and threatened with eviction by the aggressive girlfriend of his milquetoast best friend-roommate, Finn seizes the opportunity to impersonate his roommate and become a substitute teacher at a posh preparatory academy for primary school children. He concocts a ludicrous scheme to transform his class of uber achievers into a rock group and enter them in a battle of the bands with a big prize. Letís rock? The kids stare back at him with incomprehension. One African-American kid likes Puff Daddy. The boy who wants to be a fashion designer likes Liza Minnelli. To them, Led Zeppelin might as well be Glen Millerís Orchestra.

Like the best Hollywood comedies of bygone years, each character is a successful, satirical representative of a particular type in American society. Joan Cusack, for example, is marvelous as the stilted, rhetoric-gushing school principal whose inner Steve Nicks is hidden beneath her dowdy professional garb. The go-getter parents are a hilarious send-up of the affluent upper classes. With his excruciating guitar hero gestures, Finn is clearly a figure of fun, a goofball marooned in his own daydreams. The world has left him behind and rock wonít change that world anymore. And yet, like Laurel and Hardy or W.C. Fields, heís sympathetic in his preposterous single-mindedness. Like them, he seems better than the dull, workaday society he will never fit into.

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