Bandslam | Comedy/Drama | rated PG (A) | starring Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens, Alyson Michalka | 1:41 mins
Taunted mercilessly at school, Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) gets a second chance when he and his mother (Lisa Kudrow) transfer to a new school in New Jersey where the disaffected student meets an equally disaffected girl named Sam (Vanessa Hudgens) and a senior Charlotte (Alyson Michalka) who is organizing a garage band to compete in a hugely popular battle of the bands called Bandslam. Will’s musical knowledge gets him a spot managing the band, with Will and the girls making the bumpy journey to Bandslam with competition, crushes, exes, family drama and personal insecurity in their way.
While Bandslam may look like nothing more than a knock-off of Disney Channel musical smash hits High School Musical and Camp Rock, in reality it’s more like someone watched those movies, pushed back the coffee table, stood up, put their knuckles on their hips and declared they were going to make a version of that film, but better. Better in every way that a movie should be. A terrific script, a wider musical literacy, a depth to the story and realism to the characters that you would never get in a fluffier Disney channel production.
An utter delight all the way, Bandslam doesn’t take a single second of it’s time with us for granted. Fully investing in every story point, from Will’s 2nd chance at a new school to his budding adorable first crush to the garage band hi-jinks to the son/single mom dynamic (Kudrow, perfectly underplayed) to the character’s passion for music. It is all so professionally tuned and polished too, lacking none of the gawkish slapstick, bad one liners and cliche high school characters you’d seen in another family film (an Amanda Bynes movie for example).
Blessed with an uncommonly intelligent screenplay, these teens are given crackling one-liners, but ones that aren’t so self-aware, CW/Kevin Williamson-esque that it comes off as phony. The progression of the story unfolds like an union, slowly peeling back layers of the story and characters that aren’t obviously set up. It’s nimble and fun, insightful in the dramatic moments and well delivered in the comic moments. It’s great for kids, through it gets quite heavy in the third act, but should be entertaining to adults as well.
This is a high school battle-of-the-bands story you’ve seen before, but shocked to life with such freshness, wit, creativity and genuinely felt cheer-the-underdogs fun that it sent my mind searching through my film viewing filmography to try to find how far back it has been since I’ve seen a live-action family film I enjoyed this thoroughly. Don’t let the cover fool you, Bandslam is a terrific, criminally unseen, little gem.