'School Of Rock': The Character That Scans Totally Different Today
Without exaggeration, I have watched Richard Linklater’s 2003 masterpiece School of Rock from start to finish at least seventy times. When I received my first ever iPod Video on Christmas morning, 2005, I was ten years old, the exact age of the kids in Mr. Schneebly’s class. The first purchase I made with the accompanying $25 iTunes gift card wasn’t The Who’s Tommy, nor AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, nor even Green Day’s American Idiot, which, as we all know, was widely considered to be the best album in the world at the time.
Instead, I downloaded the movie that started my fascination with all things rock ‘n’ roll. And every single day, while I rode the bus to and from school, I would watch School of Rock over and over in half hour increments. I watched it to the point where I had the entire film memorized, and even today I can still see my favorite scenes on a crisp, 2.5 inch LCD display when I close my eyes.
But when I watch School of Rock in 2022 as an adult with a job, an apartment, and an acoustic guitar collecting dust in my closet, I catch one important detail that passed clear over my head in my seventy-some viewings as a child:
Every single thing Sarah Silverman says and does in this movie is completely reasonable and justified.
From the moment she steps on screen until the closing credits, Sarah Silverman’s character Patty Di Marco speaks nothing but truth, makes only the right decisions, and correctly calls out the toxic relationship between the spineless nebbish Ned Schneebly and the freeloading dullard Dewey Finn.
Here are the events of School of Rock as seen through the eyes of Patty, the so-called “villain” of the story:
Patty lives in what we assume to be New York City and works as an assistant to the Mayor. Patty is dating the weak-willed but kind-hearted Ned Schneebly, who is struggling to get his career as an educator started after he wasted an unknown number of years playing keyboard in an embarrassing glam rock band while pretending to be, in his words, “a satanic sex god.” Patty supports and encourages Ned as he takes substitute teaching jobs while working on his credentials in order to find a full-time position.
Ned still lives with his former bandmate and currently unemployed “best friend” Dewey Finn, an often drunk, rarely clothed musician who, at some point multiple years prior, stopped financially contributing altogether and left Ned solely responsible for the rent of a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn on a substitute teacher’s salary.
One day, Patty finally convinces Ned to confront Dewey about the many thousands of dollars that Dewey has effectively been stealing from his “best friend” by failing to pay rent and refusing to get a job. Dewey reacts by insulting and belittling Ned, saying what Ned does is “temping” and calling him a “glorified babysitter.” Patty, frustrated, calls Dewey “an idiot” and “a lazy freeloader”. She admonishes Ned for letting his living situation get to the point where Dewey is “walking all over him”.
After the confrontation, the couple notices a change in Dewey’s behavior. He starts waking up before noon, he spends most of his time out of the house, and he claims to be “temping, just like Ned.” Patty and Ned continue their lives unperturbed, despite Dewey’s repeated attempts to belittle Ned’s choices and dissuade him from pursuing his new career.
Then, one day, Patty comes to Ned’s apartment to find him distraught after a conversation with Dewey. Ned reveals that Dewey took a call from a prestigious elementary school, touted the best school in the state, and accepted a job offer from them while pretending to be Ned. Patty finds out that, not only did Dewey rob the man she loved of a lucrative job opportunity, but also that Dewey has been tricking the students into following him all around New York City in an attempt to get them into a Battle of the Bands contest.
Patty does what ANY REASONABLE ADULT would do if they found out that the unstable, unemployed alcoholic who has been stealing from their partner for years is now driving around Manhattan in a windowless van full of a dozen ten year old children under their partner’s stolen identity – she calls the freaking cops.
Later, Patty confronts Dewey, saying, “You know Dewey? It’s one thing to throw your life away, but then to put Ned’s career in jeopardy? It’s so selfish! I told you to be like Ned, not to be Ned!”
And yet, after all the manipulation, the insults, and the literal felonies that Dewey committed against him, Ned still returns to Dewey like the lapdog that he is. Towards the end of the film, Ned slams a door in Patty’s face on his way out to see the Battle of the Bands concert inexplicably occurring on a weekday morning. Ned then abandons his academic career to work for Dewey as a guitar teacher, remaining under his thumb for all eternity.
As the credits roll to the tune of “It’s a Long Way to the Top” by AC/DC, we’re left to reflect on the plight of Patty Di Marco. She was right, Ned was a pushover. Dewey was a manipulative moocher who would drag Ned down to rock bottom with him if given the chance. But like ancient Cassandra, cursed with prophecy, Patty was doomed to be ignored by those she could have saved.
If you read this summary without having seen School of Rock, who would be the villain? The mayor’s assistant fighting to end the exploitation of her boyfriend? Or the abusive, parasitic identity thief who kidnaps children?
Sarah Silverman’s role in this film is part of an archetype that has – thankfully – fallen out of fashion since 2003: the nagging girlfriend whose only purpose is to be the foil of our hero, an unemployed, felonious freeloader who just wants to rock out with the bros. Silverman’s acerbic and aggressive on-camera demeanor made her the perfect choice for an early aughts antagonist, and it’s because of her charismatic candor that I’ve grown to see this film in a new light.
Her unfortunate portrayal in School of Rock as the villainous voice of reason also accidentally raises questions about the responsibility of the artist in a capitalist society – how do they stay true to themselves without becoming a liability to others? Who will pay their rent? If only there was another mid 2000’s music-focused movie starring Adam Pascal that asked such questions.
One of the worst parts about getting older is that the glossy finish you used to see over every work of art wears off. Revisiting your favorite movies out of nostalgia forces you to engage with something you once held sacred on new terms, this time as an adult who lives in a world where kidnapping is a crime and rent isn’t free just because you can shred a sick solo.
But the other side of this coin is that certain elements will age like fine wine. When you’re old enough to have acquired the taste, rediscovering them gives you a deeper appreciation of something that defined your childhood, and thus lets you form a new relationship to an old love.
I watched School of Rock seventy times believing that Dewey Finn was the hero who saved Ned Schneebly from his bossy girlfriend. I will watch it seventy times more knowing the truth that Sarah Silverman was too good for him anyways.
Top Image: Scott Rudin Productions
For exclusive ComedyNerd content, subscribe to our spiffy newsletter: