The School of Rock, Richard Linklater’s film from 2003, is probably the greatest movie ever made. Please do not misunderstand – The School of Rock is most assuredly not really the greatest movie ever made. I merely mean to suggest that whenever I watch The School of Rock it is always the movie I need to be watching at that precise moment and that in that precise moment there is not another movie made that will be more conducive to my then state of mind and so in that purified window of time it is……perfect. It is for 108 minutes and those 108 minutes only the greatest movie ever made.
Jack Black is Dewey Finn, a guitarist molded in the likeness of Angus Young with a little Jimmy Page to burn, who is jettisoned from his band by being too devoted to the gods of music. Down on his luck, jobless and moneyless and needing to pay his rent he does a dirty deed when he takes a phone call intended for his roommate (Mike White, who wrote the script), an aspiring teacher and dating a Grade A Bitch (Sarah Silverman, exuding Grade A Bitchiness), for a substitute teacher position at a prestigious private school. Initially he intends to keep his head down, sleep through class and collect a paycheck. Until he hears his pupils playing in music class, that is, at which point he decides to fashion himself a makeshift rock ‘n’ roll band dressed in school uniforms and haul them to the renowned Battle of the Bands.
Classically-trained, the mighty-mites are taught by Dewey to embrace classic rock instead. He gives them homework assignments in the form of CDs (sigh……nostalgia) and assigns each student not on an instrument with a task crucial to the band’s success – backup singers, roadies, security, stylist, and Summer Hathaway, a fledgling state Senator, is made band manager because she’s far more responsible than Dewey. More importantly, though, he teaches the uncool keyboardist to embrace his inner cool, gets the insecure Tomika to unleash her inner-Aretha and shows lead guitarist Zack how to prevent his Dad and/or The Man from getting him down. In turn, the kids teach Dewey accountability and faith in his fellow man (different from The Man).
Eventually, of course, in keeping with story necessities, the jig is up, Dewey is jettisoned again and the all-important gig at the Battle of the Bands looks to be kaput. But the kids execute a school break-out, pick up their bandleader and make it to the show in the nick of time, as Principal (Joan Cusack) and parents strike out after them, naturally manage to make it down front for the show and then, rather than pull the plug, become transformed by the music their kids are making.
The end is so by the book for a movie of this nature, except that simultaneously it serves and reinforces the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. They stick it to The Man by busting out and they cleanse all souls with their righteous tuneage. And that is Linklater’s true and phenomenal achievement – he has constructed a film that embodies the very ethos of punk rock by fitting it into the expectant formula of a kids’ movie. It hits every beat of the genre but never feels false because the attitude is so entirely true.
Some may point out that the kids, on account of Dewey, are far behind in their studies, that the vocals of Blondie and the keyboards of Yes do not cancel out math and science. These people, however, are not familiar with one of the most famous Bruce Springsteen lines of ‘em all. “We learned more from a three minute record, baby, then we ever learned in school.”
Those lines are really just romanticized rhetoric, sure, but, hey, that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is. And so is The School of Rock. And that’s why it’s perfect.