Bandslam follows young Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) telling David Bowie (via email) how unhappy he is with his current situation in Cleveland. Returning home from a typical awful day at school, his mother Karen (Lisa Kudrow, Friends) asks what she can say to make his day better. He asks her to inform him that they are moving. To his luck she informs him of the news on just that. Will and his mother are then whisked away to Lodi, New Jersey.
Arriving in NJ, Will quickly finds that moving to a new school has freed him to be completely invisible to those around him. While at lunch an announcement is made as the local band Glorydogs take the stage regarding the upcoming battle of the bands style competition, Bandslam. As the entire cafeteria goes wild, Will asks Sa5m, the 5 is silent (Vanessa Hudgens, Highschool Musical) how big Bandslam is, to which her response is “Texas high school football big.”
The following day at school Will is befriended by Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka, Super Sweet 16: The Movie). Unaware of the fact Charlotte was previously a cheerleader and romantically involved with Glorydogs lead singer. She asks Will to attend her band’s practice as she finds his knowledge of music impressive and wants his input as she prepares her band to compete in Bandslam.
This sets up a series of events that finds Will torn between the two girls, a lie, and his past.
I have to give the film high marks for the pop culture references that are sprinkled throughout. It’s dedication to music is commendable. It’s obvious that the film’s writers Josh Cagan and Todd Graff have a great amount of respect for music and are trying to reach out to a younger generation with some of the great artists, both modern and classic that are name dropped or heard during the film. Bowie, The Velvet Underground, and The Sex Pistols are but a few of the artist/band names dropped over the course of the film. The film also makes sure to cover the band part of the film and spends decent time discussing the on screen bands sound. Several books and movies are also discussed or at least seen on screen. Lets just hope the Highschool Musical and Aly and Aj crowd makes a mental note to pursue these upon completion of the film.
Bandslam is light fluffy fun, much in the vein of 2003’s “School of Rock” or last year’s crude “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”. That’s not to say it’s without problems. The acting from the young actors can be all over the map. A speech problem for one character equated to nothing more than a throw away line and at times some lines just came across wooden. The overall story is pretty paint by numbers but does have enough twist to keep it from being overly formulaic. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the twists that it takes and a small dark, well as dark as PG can get, reveal made late in the film.
This was a nice chance for Aly and Vanessa to stretch their legs from the Mouse house a bit. Look for an awesome cameo in the film. I recommend taking the middle school to high-school boys and girls to see this in hopes that it imparts them with some of the excellent music, book, and film choices it makes. Aly and Vanessa may be what lures most of them in, scratch that, the “New Moon” preview probably will, but lets hope they leave with a music lesson.
I give Bandslam 2.5 Vanessa Hudgens rocking a flying V guitar out of a possible 5.
by John Coovert