Movie Review for Bandslam



Comedy, Drama, Musical | G | 1 hr 50 min
The posters for Bandslam are pretty misleading. They feature Disney stars Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Michalka right up front, while Gaelan Connell is obscured in the background. But this movie is not about Hudgens or Michalka or whatever their presence suggests to the casual moviegoer. It’s about Connell, the skinny, awkward kid with the Jewfro whose tastes probably run opposite from the sensibilities of the two Disney princesses. Bandslam makes itself out to be another Camp Rock or High School Musical, but really wants to have more in common with Juno and School of Rock. Those are good influences to have, and it works surprisingly well for what it is. But it’s definitely caught between two worlds.

Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is an awkward, music-obsessed kid who doesn’t quite fit in at school. He moves to New Jersey with his mom and dreads finding the same school life that he had in Cincinnati. But to his surprise, he makes quickly makes a connection with two people: Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens), a quirky outsider, and Charlotte (Aly Michalka), the most popular girl in school. Charlotte wants Will to help her get her band in shape in time for Bandslam, a tri-state high school battle of the bands. And things appear to be going well for Will, but the band is up against tough odds, and Will is in an unfamiliar spot.

When teen movies portray outsider characters, they’re rarely ever really outsiders. Underneath the veneer of quirky hair, odd behavior and ironic t-shirts often lies a pretty generic personality. But Will is different. Bandslam still suffers from a lot of false moments, but it gets its main character right. Will keeps the movie together, perfectly epitomizing the attitude that a young, pop culture obsessed high school geek might have. Will is a character in the wrong place at the wrong time, focused on things that other people his age couldn’t possibly relate to, and missing out on things that he’d love. In a crucial scene for the film, Will laments that he wasn’t around for the heyday of CBGB. That’s really the kind of film this is, playing out as an ode to the teenage hipster, assuring them that some day, they’ll be all right. And when it sticks to that, the movie feels genuine, and it works because of that. But there are times when the movie foregoes this approach to deliver the mass-market thrills of dozens of teen movie clichés, falling too hard for the romantic fantasies that just don’t feel right for the characters. They throw in conflicts that don’t feel organic, and everything slows down for it. And the music that the band actually plays feels like an odd choice considering what Will actually listens to, but that’s a quibble for another day. All in all, the movie works for what it is, though it doesn’t always know what it is.

There are times when Gaelan Connell recalls a young John Cusack, and for this role, that’s a very good thing. Connell sometimes lays it on too thick, but most of the time, he’s being exactly who he needs to be for the role. Vanessa Hudgens isn’t a great choice for the role of outsider Sa5m. Hudgens’ quirk feels more than a little manufactured, and that really works against her. Hudgens is most compelling when she lets the act go and just smiles, which doesn’t happen nearly enough in the film. Aly MIchalka definitely has talent, but her character represents the most contrived parts of the film, and she suffers for it.

Bandslam turns out to be a film with a pretty unique voice, though the producers appear to have done everything possible to muffle it. The final product is a lot less than what it could’ve been, but little bits of personality seep through anyway, producing a film that’s definitely flawed, but pretty entertaining anyway.

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