Release Date: August 14th, 2009 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Todd Graff Actors: Alyson Michalka, Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens, Lisa Kudrow
or the first time this year, a teen film actually appeals to teens. It’s painfully routed in fantasy, a trend most adolescent movies tend to follow, but with interesting characters and a hip soundtrack, the target audience is likely to be thoroughly entertained. Formulaic at times but unpredictable at others, “Bandslam” isn’t as unique as it is well-timed. Amidst the really sour teen flicks popping up in theaters, this is less immature, more comedic, and generally good fun.
Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) trudges through high school life in Cincinnati, at a school he describes as Guantanamo with a lunch period. It’s Novocain for the soul, providing him a constant source of boredom and bullying. His mother Karen (Lisa Kudrow) brings him great news that they’re going to move to New Jersey and, although he feels that his classmates will provide much of the same old annoyances, at least it will be a chance to start fresh as an unknown.
At Martin Van Buren High, he quickly attaches himself to a quiet, dark, and mysterious girl named Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) – the 5 is silent. He also discovers that the cafeteria is used for live band performances and to support the local group the Glory Dogs, led by Ben Wheatly (Scott Porter), a singer/guitarist who is too cool (and too old) for school. Glory Dogs enters every year into the Bandslam competition, a battle-of-the-bands contest that awards the winner with a $10,000 record deal. Ex-Glory Dogs singer Charlotte Banks (Alyson Michalka) discovers that Will has an uncommon knowledge of music and uses him to jumpstart another band to compete in Bandslam, courageously going head-to-head against the school favorite. With his new career as a band manager, the confusing advances by Charlotte (a bound-to-be-trouble blonde with her own Wikipedia page and continual refusal to answer “Why” questions), and his occasionally overbearing mother, will young Burton have time for Sa5m, the girl he really likes?
It seems that teen dramedies always get carried away with pure fantasy, most notable when the dorky lead character immediately makes friends with the two hottest girls in school. In similar fashion to “School of Rock,” he also luckily unites several of the most talented musicians in the state to somehow work together and form an amazingly original band, in which everyone has mastered improvisation and spontaneity. Anyone who has actually been through high school will probably wonder where exactly miracles like this take place. Fortunately, although the reality is slim, “Bandslam” employs enough humor and drama to keep things interesting, along with a good twist at the end and naturally catchy music. It’s a film that may not boast the most original premise, but at least teens won’t be disappointed in the entertainment value, even if they have to look past the mild PG rating. It’s certainly a level more realistic than the “High School Musical” franchise.
– Mike Massie