Rock 'n' Roll High School

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Rock 'n' Roll High School Movie Poster Image
The Ramones still rock in comedy with some adult material.
  • PG
  • 1979
  • 93 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

These teens are everything you don't want your teens to be like. Riff Randell mouths off to authority figures, lies, skips school to buy concert tickets, and ignores her homework. Football captain Tom Roberts is mainly interested in sex, and buys a van so that he can "get laid." He also drinks (whisky?) from a bottle. Eaglebauer is the school's "go to guy" who can get you test scores, liquor, hall passes and other contraband things for a price. Only Kate Rambeau seems interested in her studies and in dating a nice boy, but she is easily swayed by her rebellious friends. In defense of the teens, however, the movie's authority figure, Miss Togar, is much worse.

Positive role models & representations

It's impossible not to root for Riff Randell against the evil, conformist, rock 'n' roll hater Miss Togar, but Riff isn't a good role model. She's reckless and rebellious, and her actions are very often aggressive, challenging authority with no real benefits. (She plays loud rock music over the school's loudspeakers.) She ditches school for three days to get good concert tickets, and lies that her parents have died. On the plus side, she's cheerful and enthusiastic -- rather than angry -- and she never uses bad language. She even has a goal: she wants to be a songwriter.

Violence

Some high school seniors haze a freshman throughout the film, stuffing him in a locker, in a urinal, and in other places, mostly for comic effect. At the climax, the teens blow up the school. Otherwise, the movie has no overt violence, other than a general sense of teenage rebellion.

Sex

Characters think and talk about sex often, but there is no nudity. Tom Roberts flirts with girls in the hallway, and sometimes ogles their breasts. He says things like "I need to get laid" and says he wants a girl with "huge breasts." A character teaches him how to make out with a girl in a car, and uses an inflatable sex doll to demonstrate how to remove a bra (the sex doll wears "pasties" over its nipples). Tom also buys a van with a waterbed in the back. Later, Riff Randell has a fantasy sequence in which she imagines Joey Ramone in her room, and climbing into her bed (fully clothed). She appears in sexy underwear and also wearing a towel. Otherwise, we sometimes see teen girls wearing skirts, tank tops, and short shorts.

Language

Very mild and infrequent language, although there is one use of "s--t." Other words include "hell" and "God" and some insults like "screw you" and "dork."

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Teens are seen smoking cigarettes, drinking, smoking a bong, sharing a cigarette (possibly pot), and snorting cocaine (a character sneezes in his coke and sends it flying in a puff of smoke). One character is turned away from a concert for being too stoned. There is a reference to "ludes" at the concert.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL is a 1970s-era, drive-in-style, anti-authority comedy with music by the punk band the Ramones. There's hardly any good behavior here; the teen characters are rebellious and reckless, and the authority figures are mean and rigid and soul-sucking; it's impossible not to root for the teens. Of course, even today's teens will love to see other teens standing up to and humiliating their elders, and in many ways, it's good clean fun. But the movie contains heavy sexual innuendo (no nudity) and some overt use of cigarettes, drugs, and liquor by teens. The movie wouldn't be worth talking about, however, without the Ramones, who have gone on to occupy a seminal, pioneering place in rock history; some parents may be interested in braving the objectionable material to introduce teens to this great music.

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What's the story?

Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) is a huge fan of the punk band the Ramones and loves to share her enthusiasm with her fellow students at Vince Lombardi High. Unfortunately, the new principal, Miss Togar (Mary Woronov), doesn't like it and tries to instill a stifling new order. Thus begins a battle of wits between teen rebel and authority figure, culminating on the night of the big Ramones concert. Riff needs to get to the show to give her new song, "Rock 'n' Roll High School," to the band, but Miss Togar will do everything in her command to keep that from happening. So Riff decides to take things to a higher level -- and take over the school.

Is it any good?

Produced by B-movie master Roger Corman, ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL isn't exactly polished. It alternates between realistic humor and surreal humor (such as the size of Eaglebauer's bathroom stall "office"). It also moves from knowing, winking moments to awkward naïve moments, but somehow -- almost as if it were a lucky guess -- the movie's tone and energy is exactly right, and it ties all these disparate moods together. What it doesn't have in polish or artistry, it makes up for in fun and energy.

And, almost miraculously, the movie's moods seem to precisely fit the music of the Ramones, and frankly, without them, the movie wouldn't be worth discussing today. Over the years they have emerged as a seminal, pioneering band in the history of rock music, and despite the general bad behavior in the movie -- including heavy sexual innuendo and use of drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol -- parents may want to take the good with the bad in order to introduce teens to this great music.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about rebellion. Does Riff Randell choose a healthy and constructive way to stand up to Miss Togar and her agenda? What are some of the other options she could have chosen?

  • Does rock 'n' roll really contribute to the rebelliousness of teens?

  • Why does Tom have so much trouble talking to girls? What is it about Riff that attracts him? Do you think his fancy van is good a way of getting girls to like him?

Movie details

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