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Sunday, December 12, 2004


This movie should have worked. It had a hero with a dream -- Dewey Finn wants to be a rock star. And a flaw -- he's a bit of a loser, with no steady job. He starts kinda selfish and then, by falling in love with the kids he's teaching, starts to realize that their success is as important as his success. And by succeeding with them, he succeeds for himself, and even gets a job out of it.

A couple of things were missing from the story, though, and that's why I think I didn't like the movie. (It may also be I'm just too old for this kinda thing. But I doubt it. I liked Toy Story, after all.)

  • Stakes. What exactly will happen if he succeeds? The kids will learn how to rock? Is that so important? These are privileged kids. While they're a little oppressed by their parents and their school, they're hardly miserable. In fact they don't even know they're oppressed. It's not clear that he's transforming their lives. As compared with, say, Dead Poets Society, where we really feel that Robin Williams' character, John Keating, is not only given them a passion for literature, he's transforming their lives and teaching them to think for themselves.

  • Jeopardy. What will Dewey Finn lose if he doesn't make a success of his teaching job? He starts the movie as a jobless loser sleeping at a friend's house. So things aren't going to get much worse. As the movie goes on, it looks like he might get kicked out of the apartment he's mooching. But is that necessarily a bad thing?

  • Obstacles. What I most missed were threats and obstacles. The movie cleverly sets up how Dewey's students manage to play loud rock'n'roll in a stuffy prep school without getting busted. But it's too easy for them to get away with it. There need to be more twists and turns where they almost get busted.

    Also, where's the emotional depth for the kids? It's addressed here and there, as when the Asian kid says he's not cool enough to play keyboards in a band, and the fat girl doesn't want to sing because she's too fat to go on stage. But I'd want to see how Dewey Finn's teaching changes their lives at home or elsewhere in school. It's all about Dewey. One thing that made Dead Poets Society so effective was that we saw the kids at home, how John Keating is changing their relationships with their parents -- who are often hostile to the change.

So that's School of Rock. Let's not talk about Elf, okay?


Add "Romance!" to the list. Why didn't the shmoe hook up with the principal? They could've each learned a little something and been rewarded.

By Blogger Will Shetterly, at 5:32 PM  

Well that sounds like one to avoid (I frankly don't get Jack Black's appeal in movies, though I like Tenacious D - 'F*** Her Gently' is a party classic).

You make a very good point about the stakes, and that's where the Dead Poets' Society comparison is particularly apt. What elevated Dead Poets' Society was the kid killing himself. It showed that this wasn't just about kids wanting to read poetry and rebel a little, but also needing the freedom to live. The suicide is what raised the stakes.

Not that School Of Rock needed to aspire to those kinds of thematic heights, IMO. I loved Back To School, but I think that lived in part off the contrast between the juvenile environment and the looneyness of Rodney Dangerfield. With someone like Jack Black, I imagine it comes across more like someone trying just a little too hard.

Then again, I don't know, and I don't intend to.

By Blogger Electroglodyte, at 6:37 PM  

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