DIR: Todd Graff • WRI: Josh A. Cagan, Todd Graff • PRO: Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Ron Schmidt, Marisa Yeres • DOP: Eric Steelberg• ED: John Gilbert • DES: Jeff Knipp • CAST: Gaelan Connell, Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Lisa Kudrow.
These days, it seems that high school movies cannot exist without at least one (if not ten) high-powered musical numbers. With the success of Disney’s High School Musical movies, the bar has been set for how obnoxious such musical numbers can be. Bandslam may look like a film about outsiders forming a rock band but it’s really another re-hash of the old High School Musical formula. This time, however, instead of taking inspiration from the pop stylings of Hannah Montana, they’re using the faux-rock of the Jonas Brothers to create a thoroughly annoying band that thinks it’s indie.
The story follows Will, a loner music nerd who spends his time writing daily letters to David Bowie. He moves to a new school to find that despite being a total nerd, he immediately befriends beautiful ‘grungy outsider’ Sa5m (Hudgens). That’s not a misprint, that’s how she spells it – the 5 is silent. He also quickly hooks up with bubbly, beautiful, too good to be true Charlotte (Michalka). As it turns out, this school is obsessed with Bandslam, a battle of the bands that results in the winner getting a record contract. Will takes it upon himself to use his infinite knowledge of music to pull together a motley crew of band geeks and hooligans to create a band in time for the contest.
The casting of HSM alumnus Vanessa Hudgens and Aly & AJ’s Alyson Michalka shows who this film is aimed at: strictly the tween market. No harm, tweens need movies too, I suppose. However, this film has the same creepy thing that the Jonas Brothers have – It considers itself a troubadour for high brow indie rock, when what it is clearly doing is exploiting it. The fact that Alyson Michalka beats Rudo y Cursi’s Gael García Bernal to this year’s most obnoxious cover version of Cheap Trick’s ‘I Want You to Want Me’, says all you need to know about the calibre of music on display.
However, this film is by no means awful. It has its moments and must be commended for rising above the use of stereotype and creating somewhat complex teenagers. None of the main characters are painted in black and white; they all do awful things but with reason and the script allows them room to redeem themselves. When the film is at its best it begins to feel like Richard Linklater’s The School of Rock. Will’s pulling together of the band, if somewhat far-fetched is kind on the ears and is the only time that a true passion for music can be felt in the film.
Leading man Gaelan Connell seems a bit out of place here. I would hope he could go on to better things as his performance was charming and charismatic and thankfully they actually cast an unattractive kid in the role of the unattractive kid. That’s a rarity! The rest of the cast are also pretty good, apart from Hudgens who just cannot possibly be believed as the grumpy, grungy, monotone Sa5m. If I were a grumpy teenager, I can’t tell you how offended I would be at this performance.
This film is strictly for teenagers. There’s just nothing here for anybody else. As much as it might recall The School of Rock, it lacks the charm to give it the energy of its predecessor. However, it isn’t all bad and if you do end up being dragged along by a twelve-year-old, you could do worse. Just button your ears for the musical numbers.
(See biog here)
Bandslam is released on 12th August 2009
Bandslam – Official Website