Mystic River

Jack Black and Joan Cusack. Directed by Richard Linklater.
Running Time: 108 mins
Rated: PG

Dewey Finn (Black) is an aging rocker. He is a mean guitar player, but his antics on stage has seen him fired from one rock band after another. He has not been able to hold down a day-job, and with mounting bills, and suffering from depression, he has to find some income. One of his housemates is Ned Schneebly (Mike White), a relief teacher. When Miss Rosalie Mullins (Cusack), the principal of a posh primary school, rings up seeking Ned's services for eight weeks Dewey spots his chance to make some easy money. Impersonating Ned, Dewey turns up to baby-sit a class of ten year olds. Soon he discovers that some of these kids have musical talent. Dewey spends all day each day getting his class ready to perform in the Battle of the Bands. Everyone ends up learning all sorts of important lessons about life.

This is an unusual children's film. Like the rock culture it affectionately parodies, School of Rock is in its own way an example of subversive cinema. It encourages children to be rebel against school and home authority and "let go through the freedom of rock'. Such a message is rarely found in a children's film.

I think writer Mike White thinks contemporary kids have become too serious for their own good. Whether the heavy metal rock culture is the best anecdote is open to debate. Furthermore, White and director Richard Linklater present nearly every major adult character as a control freak, and almost every child in the film as a lifeless, repressed adult, until Dewey-the-big-kid turns up.

School of Rock is fun in parts, predictable and silly. With no surprises at any turn in its narrative, at 108 minutes it is too long for the obvious story it labours to tell. Eighteen minutes of this film on the cutting room floor would only have improved it.

It did surprisingly well at the US box office which, depending on your tastes, will either recommend it, or not.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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