PG-13. It's really one of those movies that toes the line. I'm going to apologize and say that this was one of our family movie nights. It's got some language, and some of that is coming from the kids' mouths. It's got some innuendo and some drinking. There are discussions about alcoholism and hangovers. But tonally, the movie is fairly tame. A lot of the more risque stuff went over our kids' heads and they really seemed to enjoy it. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Richard Linklater
It's really weird that RIchard Linklater made this movie. I guess he's allowed to have a commercial film in him. But School of Rock is one of those movies that have really grown on me over time. To be clear, I always liked this movie, but I don't think I ever loved the film. Part of me always wanted it to be another High Fidelity, simply because Jack Black is really just transposing his character from that film into this film. But School of Rock might be one of the more touching films from Jack Black while maintaining Jack Black's persona of the goofball rock fan / star. (Note: I did not even attempt to explain to my kids who Tenacious D were. I felt like that would just be dangerous as heck.)
I'm just going to be wading in hypocrisy here. If you read this and think that I'm a hypocrite, hold onto that thought. You probably aren't wrong. I tend to really tense up when it comes to movies about teaching. In the same way that my wife couldn't watch House because, as a doctor, it made her cringe pretty hard, I have the same reaction to a lot of movies about education. It's not like I'm the bastion of education. I just made Cincy Magazine's best teachers issue. When I see stories showing how easy or insane it is to teach, I scoff. It's just my brain. So why am I cool with Dewey Finn co-opting a class to become his new rock band? I think part of the logic comes from the fact that the movie oversells that Dewey would make a completely inept teacher simply based on his own instincts. There's an odd respect for the craft of teaching, despite the fact that I twitch thinking about my education classes of the past.
Because Dewey is so incapable of treating the curriculum respectfully, he is allowed to be this lovable goofball when it comes to these kids who are completely education-obsessed. I teach in one of these schools. The majority of my students are extremely grade-oriented. Trust me, it's awesome, for the most part. They will do anything for an A because they are laser-focused on their career. But Dewey Finn is not the product of the same kind of education. While I'm thrilled that my students respect their education, I always kind of hope that they find some kind of passion for what they're learning about. It's always a bit of a bummer that, despite the fact that these students absolutely obliterate tests and understand a lot of the objective information about what I teach, very rarely do they get excited about the material.
That's where I love to teach. I am an English teacher. I get to talk about English and books and humanities all day. Sure, I'm terrified to re-enter the classroom in this era of Covid, but you get the idea. As horrible as Dewey is at following a curriculum and covering state standards, Dewey does this really smart thing and take the content away from the page. We can't deny the fact that his presence, in essence, is a con. He's there to slack for two weeks and collect a paycheck. He thinks that no one is going to narc on him because, as a kid, he would love to have a teacher that let him slack off all day. But when he discovers that these kids have a talent for something he loves, he accidentally becomes a moderately decent teacher because he shared his passion. If anything, through Dewey's oafishness, the movie becomes this love-letter to passionate teaching.
Yeah, Dewey shouldn't be allowed near kids. As much as we're all supposed to loathe Sarah Silverman's character in this movie, she's kind of right. If this was reality, I'd be standing with Silverman the entire time. But that being said, the movie presents a wonderful villain. It's the most realistic villain in the world. I'm talking about the parental mass. Not all parents are like these parents. After all, it takes a lot for a kid who is good at guitar to be steered away from playing anything that he enjoys playing. But it's also such a difficult task to try to explain why curriculum should be distanced from the textbook at times. Sure, I wouldn't want Dewey Finn to kidnap my kids for a Battle of the Bands contest. But the fact that the kids are excited to go to school and learn cultural literacy is kind of awesome. Dewey's biggest problem isn't that he isn't a qualified teacher. His biggest problem is that he doesn't vary his classroom content.
But it's also the hyperbole of teaching that happens in this film that should be looked at. Dewey shouldn't be teaching this class, but it's also only two weeks. Spending two weeks on a cultural music project isn't that criminal. (Sure, taking them on secret field trips is totally illegal and Dewey Finn should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.) But because Dewey teaches the history of rock and the theory of music, he's actually doing quite a bit of cross-curricular activity. As dumb as the movie tries to make him out to be, his in-depth study of rock and roll history is extremely valuable academically. It's in a montage, so I don't exactly know what he's saying, but the fact that one of the kids is learning about Jimi Hendrix has to give some cultural and historical context to the lessons presented.
There's also something tragic about Rosalie Mullins, the principal of the school. There's a really weird common misconception that I see in education. People think that I want to be the principal of my own school one day. Nope. There's a lot of nope behind that. I know that there are a lot of teachers who go into administration one day. In fact, the best administrators were once teachers. But Rosalie Mullins, as an administrator who constantly is working to make parents happy, has lost the drive that made her get into education to begin with. Linklater teases that Mullins and Dewey probably had a lot more in common when this whole thing started. When Mullins went into education, she wanted to share her passion for music and arts with her students, but that was beaten out of her over time with the growing authoritarian attitudes that came with a large tuition.
I don't know what changed, but this viewing of School of Rock changed my opinion on it. This movie is super fun. While I always laughed at sections of it, this might be the first time that I've watched it as a certified teacher. I've been teaching for eleven years, so it isn't insane to think that this is the first time that I've watched the movie since I've taken education so seriously. I now see the movie about passion and how an effective teacher can get kids excited about education. It also doesn't make that mistake about the teacher having to be liked. For a good chunk of the movie, the kids actively hate Dewey. Heck, even the fashion design kid seems to dislike him through the end of the movie. But they all acknowledge that Dewey was effective at making education come alive.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.