Sunday, July 02, 2006
#19 (Male Performances in Review 2000-2004)
I am having an inkling that this is the moment, right here, in which I lose a lot of you dear readers. Admittedly, comedian Jack Black is the kind of personality who is best enjoyed in very small doses. Before seeing his work in Richard Linklater's The School of Rock, I was not a big fan (to put it lightly). In a lot of his work, he goes too far, resembling an only slightly-less manic Jim Carrey; the end result is either blisteringly funny or abominably irritating. But Linklater clearly understands these respective strengths and weaknesses of his lead actor, and allows Black to channel his ferocious energies into a more approachable manner to his character. Make no mistake, this is still Jack Black, the obnoxious loud-mouth you hate to love. But he is also the hero of this story, much more human and thusly, a lot more accessible. Lazy, irritable, selfish, yet also responsible and loving when the time comes, I adore Dewey Finn because I see so much of myself and others reflected in him. I find it rather telling that Bridget Jones and Dewey Finn are two of my favorite screen characters in recent years - it is about time leads of romances and comedies are a little more flawed, plump and screwed-up than their bland counterparts. Detractors may argue that this is merely a variation on Black playing himself, and Linklater reigns him in only slightly so. To this, I say that while elements of his celebrity remain, Black is still acting nonetheless, as opposed to relying solely on that persona. He plays it up, and then builds on it. On the other hand, his Mr. Finn is not the equivalent of the saintly Mr. Keating played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. If that teacher was unorthodox in his approach to instruction, Finn is positively reconstructionalist. He vents his frustrations in the classroom, massaging his wounded ego with a rocking ode to himself because he was kicked out of his band. Furthermore, he actually goes out of his way to undermine the children's confidence ("Give up, just quit, because in this life, you can't win... because the world is ruled by The Man"). Finn's deception of his students, their parents and the school principal (a phenomenal turn by Joan Cusack) is pretty despicable. But they all come to gain as much from him as he does from lying to them. Consider how Finn offers the kids an education through the joy of music, playing with math and training them in rock trivia. Even in those inspirational moments which could dangerously veer into shmaltz, Black is there to kick the film back on track ("I like to eat! Is that such a crime?"). Indeed. I salute you, Mr. Black, with a raise of my "goblet of rock". I would attend your school anyday.