Have you ever been watching a more or less critically acclaimed film, enjoying yourself and humming merrily along, only to fall down a deep well of introspection when it comes to the handling of a few minor characters? That moment when you realize how different this sequence of events might look through their eyes, or the eyes of other bystanders?
I had that moment the other day, watching Richard Linklater’s School of Rock on TV for the umpteenth time.
My thesis is simple, and I’ll waste no time in stating it: Most of the non-band kids in School of Rock got an incredibly raw deal, and their parents SHOULD BE PISSED.
Yes, in a feel-good film that does an excellent job of making us fall in love with this class of musical ragamuffins, there’s a big, unanswered question hanging indolently in the air: What about those seemingly non-talented souls stuck doing menial labor as Jack Black’s elementary school group prepares for the big Battle of the Bands? As it turns out, a full quarter of the class is more or less stuck doing nothing in this story. They are THE FORGOTTEN KIDS.
Let’s break this down. Observing scenes of the class, such as this one, you can slowly get a feel for the size of that classroom. The desks are laid out in a square, rows of four going each way, for a maximum occupancy of 16 students (benefits of prep school!). However, there appears to be one missing desk, and we’re introduced to a total of 15 students, confirming that the total class consists of 15 kids. Of those, 4 are playing instruments, 3 are singing, 2 are doing technical work, 1 has the nebulous role of “manager,” 1 is a full-time “stylist” and 4 more are … THE FORGOTTEN KIDS.
Now, you could easily question the role of some of the non-forgotten kids as well. The backup singers, for instance—they’re really on-hand only to give us a few well-timed “ooh la la lahs,” which is hardly equal in importance. The tech kids are fairly unglamorous roadies, although they at least feel important in the sense that they provide the light and FX work for the band’s climactic performance. Summer, the manager? Well, I’m not entirely sure what her actual band-related duties are supposed to be, given that Dewey only gives her the title to shut her up, but at least she gets a lot of screen time.
Which leaves us with two groups, consisting of two boys (“Security”) and two girls (“Groupies”). These are the truly forgotten kids, representing 27% of the class.
Consider two things, as we begin to judge this segment of the class:
1. The film implies that Dewey Finn taught this class for at least three weeks, if not a month or more.
2. These kids’ parents would also have been at “Parents Night” and the resulting concert at the end of the movie. We simply don’t meet any of them, for obvious reasons.
In the “lineup” scene of the film where Dewey assigns all of the kids their roles, he says the following to these two, who he refers to as “Tough Guy” and “Short Stop.” And by the way, “Fancy Pants” the stylist would also have ended up stuck in this role if he hadn’t been enterprising enough to escape it with his own ingenuity.
You guys are on security detail. Your job is to make sure no one outside this room knows what we’re doing in here. Your first mission: Soundproofing this room. Get on it!
Okay, soundproofing a room. Sort of a useful function … but one that presumably takes them all of a day or two in order to implement, considering that the band immediately starts hosting full-on rehearsals in the classroom. For the entire rest of the film, these kids do nothing but play lookout and inform the rest when they need to hide their instruments. But mostly, they spend a month sitting around, listening to their peers receive actual musical instruction.
Imagine you’re one of the parents of THESE kids, who the film never shows us. We’re shown the ones it makes sense to show: Severe Asian Dad, who’s suddenly proud to see his son shining in a social setting. Overbearing Guitarist Father, who beams at his son’s rockstar skills. Supportive Black Parents, thrilled by their daughter’s booming support vocals. Notably absent: The parent whose kid is standing backstage, wearing a “security” shirt and serving no function. Do you think that Mom and Dad are going to be coming up to hug Dewey after the show? Or do you think they’re stopping off at the family lawyer on the way home, preparing to bring a massive lawsuit against the school district? I think we know which seems more likely, yes?
How does Dewey even defend himself, to those parents? I imagine it’s something along the lines of: “Your kids learned a valuable skill in room soundproofing. Soon they’ll be using it on their own rooms so you can’t hear their porn.”
If possible, these two girls may have things even worse than the security boys do. Once again I should mention that just like with security there were originally supposed to be three of them, until Summer weasels her way into “band manager,” meaning that Dewey’s original roles would have made 40% of the kids in the class completely functionless. By the way, these are also the only kids he doesn’t even bother giving colorful nicknames to: He just refers to them as “you three.” That’s how inconsequential these class members are. Their official assignment:
“You three … groupies. Your job is simple. Just worship the band. You’re gonna be makin’ hats, you’re gonna be makin’ tee shirts, which leads me to your first assignment: Naming the band. Alright, sit down.
Oh, so these girls get a kind of “home ec” assignment, with hats and shirts and stuff, then? Well, no—for whatever reason, we never actually see any hats and shirts made by them. The band’s costumes, after all, are ultimately created solely by Fancy Pants the stylist. Therefore, in the MONTH that Dewey Finn is teaching at this school, the sole contribution of the groupies is that they coin the term “School of Rock.” Great job, Dewey! Really getting the most out of these young minds. I’m sure they do an excellent job of making all the other, more talented kids feel important, and all with ditzy smiles on their faces.
The parents of these girls … dear lord. Imagine standing up to that wrath afterward. “So let me get this straight: My daughter’s class spent a month secretly training to be in this rock show, and her job was … to worship the band? Oh my god, HAS MY DAUGHTER BEEN DEFLOWERED BY FREDDY THE DRUMMER?!?” PULLS OUT GUN
The more you think about it, the more ridiculous this gaping hole becomes, and the more I feel bad for this forgotten segment of the class. Just look at the band’s triumphant final performance at the Battle of the Bands, and search for the forgotten kids. They appear on screen for roughly three seconds during the performance, around the 3:10 mark … and the groupie girls can’t even be seen! They’re literally hidden behind the bulk of the security boys, proving that even among the forgotten kids, there’s still a caste system where groupies are clearly at the bottom. At meals, I assume they subsist on whatever food the band members drop on the ground.
Those are the groupies’ heads, back behind them
Is this an absurd thing to obsess over? Obviously. And yet I find it oddly humorous, and also perfectly indicative of the craft we use to construct storytelling in Hollywood, and in American cinema. Everything about the story is structured to build pathos for Dewey and the kids … but only the kids who matter. We don’t go into the homes of the little security boys as they pump iron and acquire black sunglasses to wear backstage (for some reason). We don’t hang out with the groupie girls as they chat vapidly about which boy in the band is the cutest. Any time they’re not on screen (which is almost all the time), you’re never meant to be thinking about them. They’re merely another part of the stage decoration for the actual characters of importance.
Which is all well and good, unless you’re one of those kids. In which case, it sucks to be you.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident movie nit-picker. You can follow him on Twitter for more film-related diatribes.