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Fifteen Years Later, School of Rock Still Earns A Big, Rocking "A+"

Revisiting the movie that made Jack Black a star, and inspired a generation of wannabe rockers to stick it to the man.

by | October 3, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by © Paramount)

Reluctant teacher movies were a dime-a-dozen in the ’90s and ’00s – think Renaissance Man, Kindergarten Cop, and Freedom Writers – but Richard Linklater’s School of Rock is one of the few, along with titles like Sister Act, that resonates after all this time.

The film, which has a Tomatometer score of 91%, was a success in its day, earning $82.1 million domestically, and received a Golden Globe nomination and an MTV Movie Award win for Jack Black’s performance as Dewey Finn. Fifteen years after its release on October 3, 2003, it remains a cherished early ’00s comedy: it’s a fixture on cable TV, has inspired hordes of kids to pick up instruments, and is currently blowing down doors with its stage musical adaptation across the U.K., the U.S., and Australia.

Why do people keep going back to School of Rock for an encore? Here are five reasons we think Linklater’s most family-friendly flick has endured.


1. IT TAPPED INTO JACK BLACK’S STAR POWER

Throughout the ’90s and ’00s, Jack Black was a rising star known for his bit parts as exuberant stoners in the likes of X-Files, Saving Silverman, and Tenacious D: The Complete Master Works, the HBO series about his two-man rock band. (Deep cut: he was also the highlight of the not-great horror sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.) Black gained big notice with High Fidelity, then stumbled with his first big lead role in the problematic Shallow Hal, but it wasn’t until his role in School of Rock that he carved his place out as a movie star.

Black, a rocker himself and wildly passionate metal head, was Dewey Finn, a down-and-out wannabe rocker who brought his desperation and love of music to a class of sheltered, classically trained private-school fourth graders. Passion and drive made his character’s journey from “schmo conning his way to a quick buck” to a genuinely valued teacher and mentor feel authentic and sincere. As Robert Ebert wrote in his review, “[Black] make’s Dewey’s personality not a plot gimmick, but a way of life.”

Soon after School of Rock, Black scored a major role in King Kong, top billing for Nacho Libre, and would lead the voice cast of the juggernaut Kung Fu Panda series. Nearly all of his best roles capture his – and Dewey’s – unique brand: a passionate lover of the arts and an outsider determined to break in, no matter what.


2. THERE’S A GREAT TRUE STORY BEHIND IT (OR MAYBE THERE ISN’T)

School of Rock isn’t credited as based on a true story, but reports at the time revealed that VH-1 (owned by Viacom, which owns Paramount, which produced the movie) once filmed the Paul Green School of Rock for a reality series that would never make air. Green, a manic and charismatic music instructor, teaches kids aged 12 to 18 to play ’60s and ’70s era rock. Although School of Rock screenwriter Mike White says he had never seen the reality series Rock School, or heard of the school, Green and his students noticed quite a few similarities between his own persona and Black’s Dewey Finn. There may have been some grumblings at the time, but Green acknowledged that with School of Rock‘s release, his real-life school saw a spike in enrollees.

Whether the movie is based on Paul Green’s School of Rock or not, the same principles of that school –harnessing the power of creativity, engaging kids through music, and teaching them to dream in ways they never knew they could – are the same sweet chords that make School of Rock a toe-tappin’, and heart-tugging, showstopper.


3. JOAN CUSACK IS HAVING TOO MUCH FUN – WHICH MEANS WE DO, TOO

After a stream of scene-stealing successes with Grosse Pointe Blank, Runaway Bride, Toy Story 2, and High Fidelity, Joan Cusack gave arguably her quirkiest and most enjoyable performance yet in School of Rock as Principal Rosalie Mullins, the very definition of anal retentiveness. Every aspect of her performance highlights her stress and anxiety – the hand-wringing, the facial twitches, the rigid posture, and the super deliberate speaking style. When she shakes all that off, it’s a great moment. In one of the movie’s defining scenes, Dewey unearths Mullins’ love of Stevie Nicks, and gets her to drunkenly dance to “Edge of Seventeen” – something she clearly hasn’t done in ages – and embrace the sweet, sweet sound of rock.

Cusack’s run of successes continued with a storied voice-acting career in the Toy Story series, Arthur Christmas, and a great role in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.


4. IT GAVE MANY THEIR FIRST BIG TASTE OF SARAH SILVERMAN

(Photo by © Paramount)

Silverman was already a stand-up star by the early ’00s, but most mainstream moviegoers had to wait until Evolution and School of Rock to discover her sizzling brand of funny on the big screen. Her Patty Di Marco is the movie’s voice of hilarious practicality – you’ll never succeed in the world of rock, abandon your dreams for the easy and attainable, etc. etc. If Dewey Finn’s credo is to “stick it to the Man,” Patty is the very manifestation of “the Man.”


5. THOSE RIDICULOUSLY TALENTED KIDS (WHO ARE SO FREAKING GROWN UP NOW)

It wouldn’t be much of a school without students to rock, and School of Rock‘s young cast was electric, each imbuing their characters with as much depth and heart as talent (which was real by the way – they all sang and played their own instruments).

And those child actors have gone far since graduation. Bossy Summer Hathaway – a.k.a Miranda Cosgrove – played Carly on the iCarly TV show, has released her own music, and is the voice of Margo in the Despicable Me series. Joey Gaydos Jr. (Zack) went on to become a guitarist for a Michigan-based rock band. Kevin Clark (Freddy) plays for the band Robbie Gold. Rebecca Brown (Katie) is a YouTube star and sings for her band, the Brothers Star Race. Robert Tsai (Lawrence) sings, dances, plays piano, and teaches.


School of Rock was released on October 3, 2003.

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