School of Rock

One great rock show can change the world. So can one great rock movie.

Happy 20th anniversary to School of Rock.

The Jack Black musical comedy classic was released on Sept. 24, 2003. It combined the considerable talents of Black, screenwriter Mike White, and director Richard Linklater for a feel-good experience that still resonates today.

School of Rock did well in theatres — grossing $131 million worldwide on a $35 million budget — but it wasn’t a blockbuster. You can’t call it a cult film because it made too much money. Still, School of Rock was one of those movies that left an impression, whether you saw it on the big screen or the little screen.

This flick endures because it’s so much fun. If you need a pick-me-up, this is a go-to. And we can thank Black’s tour-de-force performance for lifting our spirits. School of Rock helped turn Black from a bit player to an A-lister. The actor had been best known for appearing in High Fidelity and Enemy of the State. He was memorable in supporting roles, but few thought he could carry a movie.

School of Rock gave him an opportunity with a character tailor-made for him.

White and Black had previously teamed up in the indie-comedy Orange County (2002). This time, White wrote a screenplay with Black in mind and one that took advantage of his gifts: musicianship, physical comedy, and charm. Simply put, School of Rock does not work without Black.

If any other actor played the lead role, Dewey Finn would have been viewed as a narcissist out to exploit others. No one would root for him. Black exuded the kind of charisma that made him impossible not to like, even when he was being self-centered. Black made us cheer for a stage-hogging guitarist who, after getting kicked out of his old band, impersonates his best friend to land a substitute teaching job, and forms a new group with private school students. Ridiculous, and yet School of Rock was the perfect star-making vehicle.

From the start, Black won us over with great quotes such as:

  • “I service society by rocking. I’m out there on the front lines liberating people with my music. Rocking ain’t no walk in the park, lady.”
  • “Dude, I’ve been mooching off you for years. It’s never been a problem until she showed up. Just dump her, man.”
  • “I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of wannabe corporate sellouts. I’m going to form my own band, and we’re going to start a revolution. Okay? And you’re going to be a funny little footnote on my epic ass.”

As fabulous as Black was, the overall cast also delivered. Joan Cusack as by-the-book principal Ms. Mullins has never been funnier. Sarah Silverman was great as White’s pushy girlfriend, and White has some hilarious lines (“Dewey, I’m not a satanic sex God anymore.”). And the young actors who portrayed the schoolchildren were believable. They connected with Black in a way that’s not always easy on film. School of Rock accomplishes this by having their characters talk to Black’s Mr. S about their insecurities and problems.

One of the best scenes is when keyboardist Lawrence, played by Robert Tsai, tells Mr. S that he doesn’t think he should be in the band because he’s not cool. Mr S’s response is warm and supportive, saying: “You could be the ugliest sad sack on the planet, but if you’re in a rocking band, you’re the cat’s pajamas. You’re the bee’s knees.”

The story arc wasn’t groundbreaking. School of Rock went exactly how you expected it to, but moments like that were warm and remarkable. It’s a well-paced joyride with a running time of 1 hour and 49 minutes that breezes by. Plus, it has one of the all-time best closing credits scenes. Linklater lets his lead actor cook: Jack Black being maximum Jack Black, singing a hilarious rendition of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top.”

The legacy of School of Rock lives on as it has been adapted into a highly successful stage musical. In 2016, it earned four Tony nominations, and in 2017, it won the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music. There’s also the possibility of a sequel. Black hinted earlier in this year that a follow-up might be in the works. It will be tough to recapture the magic that made the original so beloved.

To learn more about the cast, Entertainment Weekly did a “Where are they now?” breakdown. 

School of Rock is streaming on Paramount+ and is available for rent on multiple platforms, including Apple, Amazon, and YouTube.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.