The pupils of Vince Lombardi High School have trouble on their hands when the new principal arrives. Miss Togar (Mary Woronov) is as strict as she is anti-rock 'n' roll, and sees the relentlessly fun-loving Riff Randall (P.J. Soles) as her greatest rival. All Riff cares about is the Ramones, the punk band from New York City, and she's determined to get to see their next concert when they're in town - will the conniving Miss Togar stop her and the rest of her classmates? She's going to do her very best... or worst.
Was there ever a more perfect marriage of music and film than the Ramones and Rock 'n' Roll High School? Well, maybe - a Roger Corman production originally conceived as a vehicle for Todd Rundgren (imagine!), then considered for various others (such as Devo), this exuberant, daft comedy, written by Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch and Joseph McBride, is the equivalent of those A.I.P. Beach Party movies of the sixties, with its good natured humour, plentiful breaks for music, and overage teenagers versus adults storyline which sees the pupils take their revenge on the teachers for all that homework they hand out.
As played by the sunny P.J. Soles (fresh from the worldwide success of Halloween where she essayed a victim role), Riff is a walking exercise in obsession, and nothing will get between her and her favourite band. She's even written a song for them (just the one, the title track), and is determined to get it to them so they can perform it. Which they do, because it's that kind of film, but only after a selection of obstacles for our heroine to overcome, including her new enemy, a sort of anti-Riff who is actually a thinly-veiled groupie. Meanwhile, Riff's best friend Kate (Dey Young) is more bookish, and wants a date with the socially inept captain of the football team, Tom (Vincent Van Patten).
It's fair to say that the first half of the film is the funniest, but it balances out because the second half has most of the good music once we reach the concert, significantly one of the better such sequences committed to film in the field of the rock movie. We're treated to witnessing the effects rock 'n' roll music has on mice (it either makes them explode or has their mothers worrying about them), Riff's escalating excuses for missing school to stand in line for concert tickets ("My goldfish died"), and the school's fixer-upper (Clint Howard) demonstrating how to go on a date (with the help of a blow up doll). Well worth waiting for there is that concert itself, which is great, and you can sing along with "Teenage Lobotomy" if you wish - the lyrics are printed on the bottom of the screen.
Perhaps the teachers should have been made more menacing - it's a lot of fun to see Woronov being authoritarian, but she's not nasty enough for a punk rock yarn - look at Derek Jarman's Jubilee or Julien Temple's The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle to contrast how the movement was approached on either side of the Pond (though oddly both Jarman and Arkush used Brian Eno music). This was far more cartoonish in execution, and all the funnier for it; we never see the parents except as an anonymous crowd near the end but Paul Bartel's music teacher becomes a diehard convert after seeing Joey and the boys live! But I suppose burning Ramones records would indeed be the last straw for most right-thinking people, hence the explosive finale. The high spirits are catching, and if you don't agree with that school-threatening act of destruction, at least you can sympathise with the sentiment, one which saw the following decade pit the rockers against the establishment like never before: this looks positively friendly in comparison with what rock was accused of later. Not sure what Paul McCartney and Fleetwood Mac are doing on the soundtrack, mind you.