Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blow Out the Candles: Jack Black

Jack Black
Born August 28, 1969

He’s been compared to Jim Carrey and Robin Williams because of his hyperactivity, quirkiness and penchant for comedic roles. An interesting factoid that I just learned while conducting research for this post is that he often competes for the same roles (and loses them to) Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s none other than Jack Black.

It’s hard to imagine Jack Black playing Father Flynn in Doubt or Truman Capote in Capote. I think he could have held his own as rock journalist, Lester Bangs, in Almost Famous, though, since the big successes in Black’s career have been in comedies with some musical element.

Black was perfect in his breakthrough role as Barry, a pretentious record-store employee in High Fidelity. Throughout the film, Barry brags about his musical talent and about his band Sonic Death Monkey (which is renamed twice over in the film), yet neither his friends nor his co-workers believe he’s got any real musical chops. At the end of the film, Black delivers a scene stealing rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” Barry’s friends and co-workers believe he’ll crash and burn, just as I thought Black would in that scene, but he pulled it off and then some by delivering a truly fine, inspired and enthusiastic rendition of Gaye’s classic tune. The film industry took notice of Jack Black after High Fidelity and he was tapped as a headliner for other comedies.

In their customary vein of off-colour, crude comedies, the Farrelly brothers wrote and directed Shallow Hal, a film about a shallow man who only dates young, beautiful women until he’s hypnotized by self-help guru Tony Robbins to only see the inner beauty of women. While heartwarming and touching in its message about the strength of inner beauty, Shallow Hal isn’t as funny as other Farrelly brothers’ films and is surprisingly conventional. Black as Hal, however, is good in his first starring role and it’s he who creates comedy in the one-joke movie.

Black reached new heights with his starring role in School of Rock. The film is Black’s biggest success, beloved by both critics and audiences alike. It was a role well suited for Black, once again merging comedy and music together. In the movie, Black plays Dewey Finn, a failed rocker just ousted from the band he founded. He fakes his way into a job as a substitute fifth-grade teacher, ignores the lesson plans and turns his class of students into a rock band. Jack Black, perhaps because he’s one half of the rock comedy duo Tenacious D and possesses a true passion for rock himself, breathes believability and personality into the role and his connection and chemistry with the young actors who play Finn’s students make the film a real pleasure to watch.

Two of Black’s other standout roles were as the voice of Po in the animated mega hit Kung Fu Panda and as drug addicted actor, Jeff Portnoy in the ensemble comedy smash Tropic Thunder. If Black shows a little more discernment in his film choices and picks more gems like the films mentioned here and fewer duds like Nacho Libre and Year One, he’ll give audiences a reason to go out and see his films and hopefully experience a few laughs.

What are your favourite Jack Black performances and/or films? Let us know in the comments section.


  1. I would say my favorite role of his is School of Rock. To be honest, Black is an actor who is really obnoxious to me in nearly all of his movies. I can barely stand him.

  2. School of Rock easily because he gets to be wild but also display a bit of substance.

    I'm also probably one of the few that liked that Tenacious D movie. It's hilarious.

  3. @Castor - School of Rock is definitely his best film. I've found Jack Black tough to endure in some films as well. I think the movie and the role are crucial in being able to appreciate his brand of acting and personality.

    @thevoid99 - School of Rock is definitely his finest film. I never saw the Tenacious D movie. I might have to put that on the list of movies to check out on a rainy Sunday.

  4. As others said School of Rock is his best starring role.

    I liked Hi Fidelity quite a bit and that was the first movie I remembered seeing Black in. Since then I've re-watched any number of movies where Black pops up in some small role. In Demolition Man he was one of the underground rebels. In Dead Man Walking he was Penn's younger brother. In The Jackal he was a weapons expert. There's a bunch of others, too.

    The one that will probably mess with people the most is Airborne where he was a bully on rollerblades. Yes, you read that right - Jack Black on rollerblades - challenging the hero to a, like, totally radical race down a seemingly 10 mile long hill, dude.

  5. @Chip Lary - you're right - Black has appeared in several smaller roles in a number of films.

    Huh, I may just have to check out Airborne for myself.

  6. @JBT - fyi, Airborne isn't that great a movie. You can pretty much fast forward to the start of the downhill race and just watch the blading stunts. If you do watch the whole thing, Seth Green also has an early appearance in this movie.

  7. @Chip Lary - noted. Thanks a bunch.

  8. Your first paragraph makes me sad. It may not be the case (perhaps he's merely going out for the Almost Famouses of the world and not the Capotes), but it sounds as though he's trying to break into more dramatic parts, but no one will let him. I'm sure he's still doing fine financially - even starring in bombs like Gulliver's - but I imagine it's frustrating trying to branch out in Hollywood once you're pegged.

    Take note, Mark Strong! :D

  9. @ Dylan - I was kind of surprised to learn that he was vying for some of the same roles as Phillip Seymour Hoffman when I was doing research for this piece, and losing them, but I think Jack Black has certainly been established as a particular kind of actor. That said, it only takes one opportunity to flip typecasting on its head, and hopefully Jack Black will continue to vie for roles that are against type and get one that will allow him to showcase more than just his zany, funny, goofiness. He has appeared in movies that aren't comedies, like The Holiday and Margot at the Wedding - the latter is better than the former and he held his own doing more serious, "adult" stuff in those films.


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