Monday, December 01, 2003

REVIEW: School Of Rock

Seen 29 November 2003 at Somerville Theater #3 (second-run)
* * * ¾ (out of four)

I was amused by the Boston Phoenix review of this movie when it appeared a couple of months ago. The author of said review seemed flummoxed by how much he or she enjoyed a broad, PG-rated comedy that features a group of kids and an unlikely mentor forming a team/band and, at the climax, entering a competition. He seized upon Richard Linklater directing and Mike White writing the thing, and decided that it was, like the rock and roll that inspired it, actually subversive and adult - an independant film cleverly disguised as a mainstream comedy.

Bollocks. School Of Rock is a mainstream, kid-friendly comedy. It's an exceptionally entertaining one, not because it does different things, but because it does the usual things better. It gives us the ethnically diverse group of kids, each of whom is dominated by one personality trait, but it is also gifted with an ear for how kids really speak and a great ensemble of young actors to bring them to life.

And, of course, the movie has Jack Black. This is a perfect role for him; it lets him throw dignity to the wind while at the same time show off things he's really good at. The music is the obvious one, but he's also great with the kids; they seem as at ease with him, and he's able to play off them, to an extent that brings Bill Cosby to mind. He's able to give his character a mix of slacker lethargy and burning passion for music that only needs the slightest push to become a complete person.

It's funny, period, but the filmmakers are able to make even obvious bits like a "learning montage" work in different ways at the same time - you get the outrageousness of the video clips Black's character shows the class in and of themselves, him mugging for the camera, and the class of gifted children reacting so seriously. It's brilliant in a way, a clinic in how to cut across age groups and make the same part of the movie funny for everybody in the audience. And the music is legitimately good rock - the kids have talent, it's stuff parents will like, but also speaks to the elementary-schoolers in the audience.

Right now, School Of Rock is vying with Finding Nemo and Intolerable Cruelty for the title of "Year's Best Comedy". It's a gem.

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