Jack Black: Yay or Nay?

Where I come from, being dubbed one of the founding members of the “Frat Pack” is not a compliment. Sure, they may possess the unbreakable bond of brotherhood, but they’re known to most as bumbling fools who wear far too many pastel colors. I would know; I live amongst them.

As an original member of the “Frat Pack,” Jack Black isn’t exactly decked out in pastels regularly (thank goodness), but the remainder of the description surely fits the bill. Jack Black, along with his comedic contemporaries -- Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Steve Carell -- often appeared in films together in years past. However, most of these comedians have seemed to disassociate himself from his “Frat Pack” past with wittier humor (Steve Carell on The Office, Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live, etc.), but Jack Black’s persona seems a bit less ... versatile.

The 1990s were a rough time for everyone; it was the beginning of reality TV and the end of actual reality as we knew it. So who are we to judge Jack Black’s quintessential stoner role in I Still Know What You Did Last Summer of 1998? Let’s just say we let him slide. But Black’s self-proclaimed breakout role was his appearance in the film High Fidelity, in which he played a hostile sales clerk, dubbed by the leading role, Rob Gordon (John Cusack), as half of the “musical moron twins.” This is where the “Frat Pack” membership is solidified.

There were a few shining moments in Black’s career, one of which was School of Rock. And shining it was, as Black was nominated for a Golden Globe and praised by critics. Yet underneath the endearing façade of a substitute teacher who inspires the music revolution of a prep school is the drunken fool of the “Frat Pack,” even arriving with a hangover his first day on the job.

Audiences were given yet another glimmer of hope with The Holiday, a film with a cast consisting of Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet -- about as far from the “Frat Pack” as you can get. Black’s character, Miles, is likeable. There is no vile language. There is no drunkenness. There is no foolish comedy. Jack Black becomes sincerely endearing, for a fleeting moment.

The Holiday is directly followed by Nacho Libre, which was released in the same year. Enough said.

Later in his career, Black lent his voice to multiple animated films: Shark Tale, Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties, Kung Fu Panda, etc., and films of this nature seem to suit him well. Jack Black’s voice is lovable, but his on-screen characters I find difficult to relate with. With animation, Black can assume a wider array of roles. And the numbers don’t lie, as Kung Fu Panda hauled in $631 million worldwide.

I'd opine that Jack Black needs to diversify his roles as an actor. He has done funny -- a lot -- but it’s getting old. His most recent film, Gulliver’s Travels was subpar (to say the least). In his breakout role as Berry in High Fidelity, Black says to a customer concerning Stevie Wonder: “Is it, in fact, unfair to criticize a formally great artist for his latter day sins, or is it better for them to fade away?” Indeed, Mr. Black, indeed.