Initially this was not something I had hopes of being “great.” Imagine my surprise when I walked away from this with the conclusion of this being one of the BEST (albeit quirky) teen flicks to come along in a long time. (Seriously! This is true.)
Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is not popular, to say the least. Each of the schools he has been to know the secret that earned him the nickname of “dewy,” but it’s his “geek” status (like writing to David Bowie every day!) that really stops any of his fellow students from befriending him. Feeling like his only companion is his free-spirited mother Karen (Lisa Kudrow) - so not cool - he can only wish for a move, which is exactly what he gets. Upon arrival in New Jersey, Will finds his latest school is crazy about a competition called “Bandslam,” it’s “like, Texas football” size big he learns from fellow classmate Sa5m (and anyone who wonders: The five is silent!). Finding what he has walked into all a little… weird, Will tentatively begins a friendship with popular-girl-gone-nice, Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka), who in turn wants him to mange her fledging band when learning of his vast musical knowledge. But this jeopardizes his potential with Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) and before long, he’s right back where he started.
Because of the two female teen pop stars, this caught my eye, but it never hit the top of the list as making me so excited I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy. Even still, I was immensely glad that I had a copy the first week of its release. Perhaps initially, viewers’ first thought is “okay, this seems a bit quirky.” But underneath there is an unknown quality to it that radiates easily onto the screen. Most teen flicks follow patterns - something is always the same about them, and true there are certain themes of Bandslam that mirror those, but most of all, it stands on its own two feet. There are thought-provoking conversations that one rarely finds in today’s entertainment and truisms that even in our own personal circles are not often discussed or at least, not as often as they would deserve to be. The main story has been recycled to some extent but is individual in that all the actors were required to provide their own vocals and actually have the skill to play their instruments, which for most of the actors took diligent training in order to accomplish that feat. Being a film of a musical nature, one cannot help but love the soundtrack. It had a distinctive sound to it that was a sort of eclectic rhythm and a lot of instruments to accompany it. Sure, there are rock ballads (not my favored genre), but I am willing to say everything worked together really nicely, each of the songs playing off the others well, which in turn complemented the vocals (Aly & Vanessa) decently well.
Humor is well constructed, without ever becoming “inappropriate” (except perhaps for one subject). Between Will’s deadpan seriousness and Charlotte’s straightforward not-afraid-to-be-me attitude, there is always some witty word match. The characters and relationships are most interesting. I enjoyed how each of the relationships developed and how the actors played off of that. The cast is very strong, and despite not being familiar with Connell, he did a fabulous job at playing a likable “geeky” sort of character. However surprising, it is really the ladies who steal the show (more so Aly). I’ve seen both of them in separate projects where they are perceived to be bubblegum pop-stars whose main audience was “tweens” (to coin a popular phrase). Vanessa is absent a great deal more of the movie than one would have expected, but she makes Sa5m so likable regardless of her lack of emotion or the fact that her nose is always stuck in a book. Charlotte is the most interesting of them all though. Aly exudes just enough “mystery” to make us question her motives, all without making her the standard popular detestable “mean” girl. Lessons (which encompass true friendship and loss) were not only well learned, but profound. Most especially does this all climax after the death of a central character’s father and teasing that Will puts up with only to turn it around, channeling it into something positive. Such depth is usually absent from teen flicks.
From the snappy opening and closing credits, Bandslam is really a delightful little movie that is not so different from the normal to make it one-in-a-million, but at the same time there is something special about it.
(Rated PG there are a few sensual instances: “First kisses” is one topic. Charlotte questions if Will has kissed Sa5m, she “educates” him by showing him what to do [nothing explicit]. Charlotte sneaks into Will’s bedroom, with no intention of anything other than to talk [Karen finds them and thinks differently]. A student has a crush on Will’s mother, whom Will claimed was his sister [the extent of which is one kiss]. Some cheating is suggested and lying is presented in a couple of different instances.)