School of Rock is the story of Dewey Finn, a struggling rock musician, who falsely accepts a job as a substitute teacher to pay his rent. However, upon discovering the students’ musical talent, he forms a band with them to win the Battle of the Bands competition.
The story is the best kind, simple but effective. The film presents a world where society inhibits passion, moulding true artistry into a mundane, banal existence. Since schools are the most obvious metaphor of this, it seems like a no-brainer for this story to take place in such a setting. The script uses a ton of creativity to show us how passion and talent can break through the workaday nature of life; they just need a medium to do so, and the film picks a wildly fitting one – rock music. Rock is so deep-rooted in combating the institutionalization of society and speaking your mind off in the face of adversity, it’s an extremely convincing choice once described on screen. The film portrays a diverse array of themes, ranging from the power of passion, individuality, unifying through a medium, the journey of an artist, and the interplay between passion and society. In hindsight, School of Rock filled to the brim with valuable messages that hold up to this day, each one beautifully realised and that can be learned from in spite of where you are in life.
The script propels the story in a clever way, by making it seem like the protagonist has hit his low point in the first act itself. It’s a great technique to get us hooked into the film as it feels like he has reached his resolution early-on, whereas the final resolution is far deeper than that. It provides a certain unpredictability to the movie, but as a viewer, due to the creativity of the story, you’re along for the ride. The build-up to the final thesis is so subtle, it makes re-watches that much more rewarding. Every moment in the film seems necessary and it all comes together brilliantly.
The characters are the lifeblood of the School of Rock. Every character is given a satisfying arc brought out so naturally, it only makes the story stronger. Dewey, our protagonist, is a musician who just wants to play rock music, but life is kicking him down. Most films would focus on his journey toward finding an avenue to channel his passion, but here, it’s far deeper than that; he must understand said avenue. He learns what makes a true artist, and the real place that individuality holds in producing that art. Roz, the principal of the school, goes through an equally important arc. She is set up to be the antagonist of the film; the person who completely objects to the protagonist’s actions and stops them in their tracks. However, she is later revealed to be shaped by society to be the way she is, and her explanation makes you relate to her, solidifying the real antagonistic force of the film. Her arc shows the effects of society on a passion, while Dewey’s arc shows the effects of passion on society.
The students are solid as well. They’re given the respect that good characters deserve. While they do, in a sense, go through a collective arc, they never seem like a hive of characters who are essentially the exact same. The script finds jobs for all the children by geniusly channelling their specific skills, such as making the ‘angry’ kid play the drums. Each student is made to feel like a substantial character due to their specific arcs, rather than just a swarm of pre-teens who play instruments. Zack, the guitarist, frees himself as he realizes his talent, other kids overcome their fears and learn not to hold back and even more. Even minor characters, like Dewey’s roommate Ned, who learns to become less of a pushover, contribute to how rock can affect everyone. Even the students’ parents learn to accept their kids seeing them showcase the skills they were holding back.
The actors knock it out of the park, especially Jack Black. His portrayal of Dewey in every moment is just perfect. Even though he seemed like a brilliant fit for the character, he still blurs the lines between both entities extremely well. Child actors in films usually don’t hold up as well over time, but in School of Rock, each and everyone is still impeccable, as are the supporting actors, Joan Cusack and Mike White.
Linklater directs School of Rock excellently, choosing for every element to work toward storytelling rather than aesthetic quality, as he later did with Boyhood. Every second, every line is dedicated to furthering character arcs and strengthening the overall message of the film. The camerawork and editing flawlessly work in tandem too, allowing for shots to follow the music almost effortlessly. The first scene of the ‘band’ coming together is a perfect example of this; Dewey teaching students one by one is done in separate shots, but all of them playing together is shown through a single long take. Subtle filmmaking choices like this show the talent it takes behind the camera to bring out the talent in front of it.
The sound design had no choice but to be great, and it delivers. The music gets more powerful every scene we hear it, building the sense of the band slowly but steadily coming together. It speaks volumes, no pun intended, about how rock can allow people to toughen their individuality while being a medium for sharing artistry. This sense only gets stronger and more compelling as the film goes on, all culminating in a heart-stoppingly uplifting final sequence, which barely a handful of films can match till date.
I love films that play out to be far more mature than what they might seem on the surface. It showcases what film can do as a medium, similar to how the film shows what rock can do as a medium. It allows younger viewers to learn from its messages while re-affirming what older viewers might already know but may just need to be reminded of every now and then. Words don’t do justice to School of Rock. It’s perfect in almost every way; the writing is incredible, the acting is remarkable, the direction, cinematography and editing are brilliant, and its commentary on the education system and the perils of society holds up beautifully to this day. It is an underrated, timeless masterpiece that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
P.S. – Make sure to stick through the credits.