I can’t quite recommend The School of Rock, the new Jack Black music-themed hit comedy about a struggling rocker who poses as a substitute teacher at an elite prep school, grooming his students to play in a big-money battle of the bands contest. At its best a cheerfully anarchic celebration of creative energy and individuality, School of Rock is almost entertaining enough and harmless enough for a pass, despite ultimately making no moral sense.
The hero’s nearly religious reverence for rock’s angry posturing and anti-authoritarianism — reverence culminating in a pre-concert prayer to the "God of rock" — isn’t quite condoned, but isn’t put in any larger context either. Rock culture’s darker side is whitewashed (it’s not about drugs, kids, and groupies are really just band cheerleaders!), and subjects other than music (and even music other than rock) get short shrift. Then there’s the swishing, lisping fifth-grade "band stylist" bringing "Queer Eye" camp to the grade-school setting.
More interesting than the film, perhaps, are the comparisons and contrasts to another current music-themed hit comedy, one being marketed to churchgoing audiences: The Fighting Temptations, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. (Note: Spoilers ahead.) The comparisons are striking:
Striking as the similarities are, the differences are even more interesting — especially in how they reflect upon The Fighting Temptations:
By the end of School of Rock, we actually have a good bit of understanding and sympathy for Joan Cusack’s character, and she shows herself capable of sympathetic behavior as well as human weakness. In The Fighting Temptations, on the other hand, the LaTanya Richardson character becomes more and more hateful, and is finally shamed and disgraced with stunningly unchristian glee by her pastor brother, and sent ignominously away.
It’s true that School’s other female antagonist, the roomate’s girlfriend, is dealt with less sympathetically than the school principal, though not nearly as unsympathetically as the LaTanya Richardson character in Temptations. Yet her basic position is far from unreasonable, and she gets no more comeuppance than an abruptly closed door.
Here is a film so woefully misconceived, so completely devoid of even generic, safely banal Hollywood spiritual uplift, that it made me long for the spiritual depth and religious meaning of Sister Act and Bruce Almighty.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.