This unashamed ode to the power of rock music was a sleeper hit in the States last year and confirmed what we at Empire have known for ages: that, given the right material, Jack Black is a bona fide movie star. 'Shallow Hal' - Black's previous leading role, after his breakout turn in Stephen Frears' 'High Fidelity' was not the right material.
'The School Of Rock', though, is a perfect fit, and the result is the feel-good hit of the year thus far. Be warned, though: if you think a little Jack Black goes a long way, then this isn't for you. For everyone else, Black gives one of the finest comic lead performances since Jim Carrey's early, funny period.
Screenwriter Mike White (who also co-stars as Black's roommate) penned the film specifically for Black, and it shows. The highly-strung Dewey Finn may be a watered-down version of the actor's anarchic Tenacious D persona, but Black's leering, grinning, gurning, sweating, wisecracking turn is a comedic tour de force, augmented by an obvious passion for the subject.
Indie darlings Richard Linklater and White (who also wrote 'The Good Girl' and 'Chuck & Buck') are savvy enough to know that 'The School Of Rock' is a cross between, say, 'Dead Poets Society' and 'Sister Act', and they wholeheartedly embrace formula conventions. Shy kid harbouring an amazing voice? Check. Selfish teacher learning to care for others? Check.
But they also inject these cliches with much-needed energy and humour, while gently subverting the formula and cloaking the film's exuberance in a muted, autumnal colour scheme, which manages to avoid gooey sentiment. In fact, what should be the film's key emotional moment (an unmasked Dewey's heartfelt plea for clemency from the kids' irate parents) rapidly becomes a very funny, if slightly dubious, paedophile gag.
But all the genre gymnastics wouldn't have mattered if the kids weren't alright. Luckily, they graduate with honours. Not only are they genuinely good musicians but, as actors, they show enough chutzpah to hold their own against Black. For Linklater to prise one good performance from a child actor is commendable. To get seven, without any hint of the Stepford Stage School, is a charming and winning surprise - much like the movie itself.