OK, it hasn’t been the best year for movies. But it’s still worth noting that
the two best films of the year thus far have been PG-13 romps aimed at children
and their parents. After the box-office phenomenon that is Pirates
of the Caribbean, we now have School
of Rock, the fabulous new film from Richard Linklater and Jack Black.
Upon reflection, it’s not exactly surprising that filmmakers sometimes create
their best material when they’re working under the constraints of the children’s
genre. Certainly Robert Rodriguez, whose latest
film is a complete disaster, has never come close to the triumph of Spy
Kids. Or compare E.T.
to The Color Purple:
I’ve had a hell of a time trying to persuade my friends to go see Pirates:
they have no interest, they say, in seeing a Disney film – one based
on a theme-park ride, no less – which is mainly famous for starring
a scenery-chewing Johnny Depp. And I can see what they mean, when they put it
like that. But it’s their loss, since the film is one of the greatest action-adventure
movies since the Indiana Jones franchise reached the end of its natural life.
Somehow I have a feeling that pushing people to see School of Rock
will be less difficult. For one thing, it has the Linklater name attached, although
weirdly he’s absent from the branding of the film – maybe Paramount reckons
that the Linklater fanbase will simply come out through word of mouth alone.
Then, of course, there’s Jack Black, someone who’s retained a large quantity
of street cred despite selling out about as much as it’s possible to do.
In any case, the thirtysomethings most definitely turned out for this film.
I saw it on a Sunday night without thinking twice about whether I might be able
to get a ticket, but the theatre was people-sitting-in-the-aisles sold out.
And not a kid in sight.
The opening credits alone are a masterpiece of comic filmmaking: Jack Black
on stage, channelling every rock god from Jimmy Page to Mick Jagger, eventually
swan-diving, stripped to the waist, into the outstretched arms of his imaginary
fanbase. Not the kind of fanbase you ideally want to crowd-surf on, it must
Amazingly, things rarely flag from there on in. The ridiculous plot is just
sturdy enough to carry us through: our stout hero blags himself a job at a posh
school, where he sets up a crash course in Sticking it to The Man for his coddled
10-year-old charges. The kids, of course, carry the day, and by the end everybody’s
happily riffing together as the long list of music featured in the film scrolls
its way up the left-hand side of the screen.
Just as Depp carries Pirates, Black is this film. He’s working
with some excellent actors, from Joan Cusack to the extremely talented children
in the band, but it’s his genuine and infectious energy which keeps the audience
rapt – and in stitches. He’s the overgrown adolescent we all flatter ourselves
to think we are still in touch with inside ourselves, and he manages to paper
over crater-sized plot holes through sheer force of personality alone.
Whether he’s quoting Whitney Houston in a desperate attempt to construct an
educational philosophy, or improvising a "Math is good" song in order
to explain away the electric guitar in the corner of the classroom, Black has
a natural’s comic timing. But this film couldn’t work with any old comedian:
Black gives it genuine rock credibility as well. True fact: while Linklater
couldn’t get Led Zeppelin to let him use their eponymous song in Dazed and
Confused, Black managed to persusade them to allow "Immigrant Song"
to be used in School of Rock.
I urge you to grab some friends, have a couple of drinks, head down to your
local multiplex, and whoop it up in this movie. You will have a fantastically
good time, and come out with a renewed appreciation for both Black and Linklater.
Linklater actually starred in Spy Kids: he knows at first hand that
what might look at first glance like selling out can in fact be the catalyst
for innovative, first-rate filmmaking. Here’s hoping that more people follow
his lead. Failing that, we might at least have a revival
of air guitar.