Shiny Shelf


By Stephen Lavington on 20 February 2004

Anyone who’s seen ‘High Fidelity’ will remember the character played by Jack Black – a grimy, pudgy, immensely sarcastic rock snob with face permanently locked into a demonic sneer. Well, Richard Linklater’s gone and made a film about him, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

‘School of Rock’ follows the misadventures of Dewey Finn, kicked out of his band, and made to find work by the prissy girlfriend of his flatmate Ned Schneebly, a substitute teacher. Dewey picks up a call meant for Ned and grabs the job, discovering a classroom of young teenagers who’ve lost the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. He assigns the next school project – to win the battle of the bands.

The film occasionally seems like a flashier version of the cheap Disney films that used to be shown on Sunday mornings. It has more than a hint of ‘Ferris Bueller’ and is very much in the spirit of Linklater’s ‘Dazed & Confused’. Where it takes off is the pairing of Black with a witty and engaging script from Mike White (‘Orange County’). At times the film approaches stand-up as Black harangues the kids with twisted, rage-soaked arguments on the power of rock and importance of fighting ‘the man’. He snarls, bellows, stretches his face into all manner of unnatural forms and dominates the film from start to finish (though to be fair his class is fleshed out with the sort of acting potential last seen in ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’). Black is basically a monster hybrid of Bill Murray and John Belushi – impeccable timing and control of expressions coupled with a powerful comic screen presence. His input goes beyond acting; ‘High Fidelity’ rock-geek is one side of the coin, the other being his concept rock band Tenacious D. Black provides some original tunes and these, as with ‘Josie and the Pussycats’, are great in their own rights; the soundtrack as a whole is pretty much a compulsory purchase.

Vitally, the tone is not cruel or mocking, but in empathy with Dewey – Bill & Ted were buffoons but never lost the support of the audience, and the same is true here. The script is so well put together that it drops some dubious jokes about groupies and a camp costume designer into the mix without making these seem distasteful or incongruous and builds to a clich?-packed and entirely derivative conclusion which comes across as fresh, exciting and even slightly moving.

This is largely because it is such a warm, inviting film – it almost demands your complete submission, but in the nicest possible way, promising some light eminently amusing entertainment in exchange for little more than tolerating a few genre conventions. Yes, this is ultimately a high-school rites of passage movie but bubbly, witty and stocked with outstanding comic performances.

This will be the most purely enjoyable film you will see in 2004. Get out there and watch it today.

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By Stephen Lavington

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