Overly enthusiastic guitarist Dewey Finn (Jack Black) gets thrown out of his bar band and finds himself in desperate need of work. Posing as a substitute music teacher at an elite private elementary school, he exposes his students to the hard rock gods he idolizes and emulates — much to the consternation of the uptight principal (Joan Cusack). As he gets his privileged and precocious charges in touch with their inner rock ‘n’ roll animals, he imagines redemption at a local Battle of the Bands.
It’s the early 2000s. I am in middle school and of course, I didn’t really enjoy middle school at the time but looking back on it now, I would do anything to go back there for even just a day. Life was simpler then. Your only responsibilities as a middle schooler are to do your assignments and get good grades. You don’t have to worry about life, money, and your future then. Just simply attend school, do well, and have fun in your life.
Of course, when you reach high school you are tasked with a lot more responsibilities in your personal life, which is why many people (myself included) miss middle school and wish they hadn’t taken it for granted. A lot of my favorite memories in my life so far were made back then. I remember one day I was super sick and had to stay home from school, which of course I didn’t mind. I had a terrible flu and was sick for a few days, practically bedridden. And while eating ramen noodles and chicken noodle soup already made me feel even just a little bit better, I vividly remember the one thing that made me feel better the most – watching School of Rock on my old boxy television.
At the time, I was maybe nine years old, and by that point, I had already seen a ton of Jack Black movies believe it or not. Most children loved to watch family-friendly movies like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or their favorite animated flicks such as The Lion King, but I had always watched a lot of movies that, looking back on it, I probably shouldn’t have watched at such a young age. Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny was a movie I watched when I was about eight years old. Yeah. Seriously.
So before watching School of Rock for the first time, I had already grown to be quite the big Jack Black fan. My whole family loves his work and so it was a blast to watch Black in a role that was quite literally tailor-made for him. Ever since the release of School of Rock, the film has become immensely popular in today’s world and there is even a musical adaptation of it. But as fun as that sounds, I just don’t think I’d like it as much because it is missing one magical ingredient – Jack Black.
I could spend an hour talking about how hilarious he is in practically every role he has been in. And while I absolutely adore his performance as the titular wrestler in Nacho Libre, and the overly fictionalized version of himself in Tenacious D, I think my favorite role of his is Dewey Finn / Ned Schneebly in School of Rock.
From the first second, he appears on screen here, it’s abundantly clear that he had the time of his life working on this movie. His character is pretty much the teacher that we all wish we had. Sure, he doesn’t actually teach the kids the curriculum that he is supposed to be teaching, but at the end of the day, he ultimately does teach each and every one of his students how to play an instrument and how to fit into a band.
The chemistry he shares with all of these kids is so uplifting and so hilarious, and it even has some emotional moments as well. One of the girls in the band, Tamika (Maryam Hassan) says that she is worried to go on stage and perform in front of an audience. Confused by this, Black’s character asks her why, to which she replies “They’re gonna laugh at me. I’m fat”. A different movie would have probably taken this dialogue setup and turned it into a cringe-worthy fat joke, but screenwriter Mike White (who is an absolute genius responsible for some of the best comedies of the 2000s) turns it into a touching scene instead.
Black’s character asks Tamika if she knows who Aretha Franklin is to which she says yes. He then says “She’s a big lady. But when she sings, she blows people’s minds! Everybody wants to party with Aretha! And you know who else has a weight problem? Me”. She asks him “Why not just go on a diet?” to which he replies “Because I like to eat. Is that such a crime?”.
I’ve actually heard stories online from a lot of people that watched this movie as an overweight child and they said that it comforted them and made them feel better about themselves and their body. And for a comedy movie to do that, especially in the 2000s which was absolutely littered with horribly unfunny material a lot of the time, is kind of amazing.
One of the things that some people like to pick apart when it comes to School of Rock is the believability of the whole concept. There’s just no way that a low-life washed-up rock and roll singer would be able to pass for a substitute teacher and get away with only teaching his class how to play instruments. It’s obvious that this would never happen in the real world even if a teacher tried to do it.
But the reason why it works in School of Rock is because the film knows how goofy and absurd it is. They never once try to make it seem like this kind of thing can happen in real life. One of the funniest scenes in the movie is in the third act, where Principal Rosalie Mullins enters the classroom and tells Schneebly that some other teachers in the area have complained that they heard music coming from his classroom.
Schneebly initially denies this by dismissing the claims as ridiculous, but she spots a guitar sitting in the corner of the classroom, to which she says “What is that over there?”. Schneebly knows that he is pretty much screwed now. He can’t just say something like “Oh, that? I brought that in just because I wanted to show my students my guitar” because that would sound crazy and silly. So instead, he seizes the opportunity to go along with it.
He says that he likes to use the guitar to play and sing in order to make some of the more boring subjects a lot more fun for the kids to learn. From here, he breaks into a full-on song about math equations, and as you can probably expect, turns into an absolute disaster for the most part.
But as funny and as outlandish as School of Rock is, it has so much heart and soul. It’s a movie that will surely inspire a lot of young kids that watch it to play an instrument of their own. I know that when I watched it for the first time I wondered if I could play the guitar just like Schneebly and Zack (Joey Gaydos Jr.).
Seeing the characters working together to create killer rock songs is so touching and it’s so hard to describe exactly why. You can just feel the passion and excitement in the air from all of the students that are so eager to learn how to make music. All of this is made even more fascinating when you realize that everybody in the classroom is an actor. Everybody sells each scene perfectly.
And yes, of course, the music here is unironically catchy and fun to listen to. I challenge you to watch the scene where the band is performing “Teacher’s Pet” and not sing along or at least tap your feet along to the beat. It’s a challenge that I can almost guarantee you will fail at because the song is just too good to resist singing to.
School of Rock is not the type of movie that is made to win awards. It’s not the greatest and most breathtaking movie of all time and it’s okay because it never tries to be. Instead, it tries to be a heartwarming comedy about a teacher’s mission to create a band with his students and blow the world away with their talent. And it’s an absolute delight to watch. I’ve seen the movie about fifteen times now, and yet it still never gets old. The magic of School of Rock will always be there, no matter how many more times I watch it.
Overall Grade: A+
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some rude humor and drug references
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Mike White
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release Date: October 3, 2003
Running Time: 109 minutes