Lisa Kudrow, Vanessa Hudgens, Aly Michalka, Gaelan Connell
Todd Graff, Josh A. Cagan
I was ready.
I had everything planned. I just knew that "Bandslam," a film starring post-"High School Musical" Vanessa Hudgens, Disney staple Aly Michalka and the dependably dreadful Lisa Kudrow, was going to suck big time.
I had my one-liners.
I had my jokes.
I had my semi-astute observations.
Then, it happened.
Dang, who expected that?
Then, even worse, I found myself involved in the storyline.
Sure didn't expect that.
Defying every expectation, "Bandslam" is a darn fine film.
Will (relative newcomer Gaelan Connell) is relocated to New Jersey by his mother (Lisa Kudrow) at the start of his junior year in high school. A socially awkward music geek, Will finds himself with burgeoning friendships with Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) and Charlotte (Aly Michalka, one-half of Disney's Aly & Aly).
Now then, with such a strong Disney presence in "Bandslam" therein lies problem number one. "Bandslam" is not a Disney film. On the contrary, it's a more mature, more entertaining and livelier version of a Disney film even though it does still possess a PG-rating.
Unfortunately, "Bandslam" is marketed like a Disney film and, as such, is unlikely to get much attention this weekend. Pity, really. "Bandslam" deserves attention by families, teens and folks who will likely enjoy these delightful characters.
Will, as played by the scene-stealing Connell, is like a mini-John Cusack complete with adorable nerdiness and teen angst in tow. He writes regularly to his idol, David Bowie, an outsider himself, ya' know.
"Bandslam," directed by Todd Graff ("Camp"), has the sort of comfortable, lived in approach to the teenage years that is so often absent from films these days. Yet, at the same time, while it certainly employs the music and the positivity, it never becomes so gosh darn squeaky clean that it seems like we've stumbled into "High School Musical 4." "Bandslam" is smart enough to know that teens can transcend their stereotypes, such as when "It" girl Charlotte becomes not just the hottie cheerleader but also the do-gooder who spends her time working with children and improving people's lives.
Before long, Will is drawn into Charlotte's musical world and becomes her 3-piece garage band's manager, while enjoying an awkwardly tender budding romance with Sa5m (In case you're wondering, the 5 is silent). Of course, we all know this is leading to a big show down, in this case between Charlotte and her ex-boyfriend's band in the huge competition, Bandslam.
Equal parts John Hughes and Cameron Crowe with a little bit of Spike Jonze tossed in, "Bandslam" works not because the material is that stellar, but because the cast is so vibrant and alive that the spirit and energy of the film are infectious in much the same way that John Cusack's "High Fidelity" invaded your senses and left you thinking about it long after you left the theatre.
While "Bandslam" begins to sag towards the end when Graff and co-writer Josh A. Cagan seem at a loss how to wrap things up, it's worth viewing for the first half alone and even the final 45 minutes are better than the majority of teen flicks that hit cineplexes these days. Perfectly photographed by Eric Steelberg ("500 Days of Summer," "Juno"), "Bandslam" beautifully recreates a Jersey suburb and, in one of the film's better scenes, a stellar shot of legendary club CBGB's.
While the film's music isn't likely to be pleasing to many adults, it's not really supposed to please adults. Fans of "High School Musical" and Disney's staple of performers will likely love the tunes, and Graff wisely arranges them in such a way that the growth of Charlotte's band under Will's management is rather obvious.
An unexpected delight, "Bandslam" deserves to find an audience and one can only hope that audiences will spread the word about this entertaining film from the folks at Summit Entertainment.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic