Fun, energetic but unoriginal "Bandslam" should please the younger set
“Bandslam” comes as a late summer charming piece of fluff starring “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgins with a cool vibe with elements of “ ” and “Juno” along with some catchy pop tunes. The younger set that it’s geared for will leave satisfied and their parents (if they attend to) may enjoy it as well. Outside of Hudgins and “Friends’” in a small part as one of the parents, the young, largely unknown cast performs well in the Austin-filmed movie from “Camp” director .
Mop-headed Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is a music geek with a great appreciation for classic rock music and writes regularly to his idol David Bowie in hopes of response. Unsurprisingly, the lanky Will doesn’t fit in with hardly any crowd and finds high school life frustrating. Will and his single mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) move to New Jersey after his mom finds a new job and seemingly finds himself in the same situation at his new school.
That is, until he befriends a few fellow music geeks who have their own band, led by pretty lead singer Charlotte (Alyson Michalka) who are competing for the prize in the regional Band Slam competition, which includes a recording contract. Will is appointed their manager and along with friend Sam (Hudgins), help reorganize the band and develop their sound, hoping to finally fit in and make a difference in the lives of those around him.
“Bandslam” is a peppy, smarter entry in the teen movie genre, helped by its charming cast and some memorable, toe-tapping tunes sprinkled throughout the film. With a couple of minor exceptions, it also helps that director Graff has cast mostly unknowns who can actually pass for teens. Newcomer Connell, skinny and bushy-haired, makes the most memorable impression in a sharp performance in his first big-screen role, as a teen who knows his music and uses it to hide things from his past.
However, the draw in “Bandslam” is the talented Hudgins, well-known from her “High School Musical” days and cast against type in what is essentially a supporting role. She performs decently in a downbeat role and as much as she tries to hide it, is still a beauty. Kudrow, in a small part, has a few affecting, poignant scenes as the overprotective mother who wants the best for her son. TV actress Michalka has some good moments as the talented lead singer with ulterior motives.
Graff is becoming a skilled director, though the predictability of “Bandslam” is largely unorginal, and the kitschy aspects reminding of a male version of "Juno" paired with a less hyper "School of Rock." The last act's unnecessary twists nearly sink the film, but is literally held together by the engaging leads and energetic music . Watch for a fun cameo from rock legend Bowie near the end.
“Bandslam,” with all its flaws, is a slightly stronger, more adept teen movie entry. Without the music, the material wouldn’t amount to much, even with the engaging actors. The engaging “Bandslam” is recommended for the younger set, who’ll probably want a copy of the soundtrack.