Unless his career takes a sudden lurch toward the unexpected, Jack Black will forever be relegated to two kinds of roles: a manic, hard-partying slob, or a manic, hard-partying slob who passionately articulates (and gesticulates) his opinions on the subject of rocking out. Expanding on his scene-stealing turn as a record-store clerk in High Fidelity, as well as on his work in the mock-rock band Tenacious D, Black may never find a film better tailored to his abilities than Richard Linklater's inspired fish-out-of-water comedy School Of Rock. In what amounts to an affectionate tribute to a classic-rock dinosaur, Black plays a long-in-the-tooth guitarist who has held onto his Jimmy Page dreams well past the point of embarrassment, still blasting wanky guitar solos in front of apathetic barflies. In the inglorious tradition of feel-good pap like Kindergarten Cop, Mr. Holland's Opus, and Summer School, Black scams a substitute-teaching job intended for his uptight roommate Mike White, who demands that Black make good on his back rent. Initially inclined to grant his snooty elementary students ample "chill-out" time and all-day recess, Black alters the curriculum after he discovers the students' musical talent, and he tries to put together an unlikely rock combo in time for a Battle Of The Bands. Under the nose of principal Joan Cusack, a taskmaster with a weakness for Stevie Nicks, Black teaches a crash course in the hardcore lifestyle (the rigorous day begins with rock history, followed by rock appreciation and theory) and assembles a band, complete with roadies, groupies, and a tour manager. Formula dictates where School Of Rock heads (charade revealed, lessons learned, sentimental payoff, and so on), but it's remarkable how much fun the film squeezes in before succumbing to the inevitable feel-good finish. In keeping with his natural aversion to confrontation–it's no coincidence that his two worst movies, SubUrbia and Tape, are also his most dramatic–Linklater happily yields the floor to Black and helps to cultivate a warm, genuine rapport with his non-professional child stars. Though tagged as the director's bid for commercial success, School Of Rock is as philosophical in its own way as Slacker or Waking Life. It was made by people who not only know the music well enough to create magnificent flowcharts around it, but also understand how a simple, soul-stirring rock song can seem revolutionary. Beyond Black's hilarious lessons on power stances, middle-period Pink Floyd, and the all-important G-chord on bass is a design for living ("You're not hardcore / unless you live hardcore") that's more instructive than anything the simps in Dead Poets' Society ever learned.
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