"Bandslam" DVD Review

3/21/2010 Posted by Admin

DVD Review


Directed by Todd Graff, written by Graff and Josh A. Cagan, 111 minutes, Rated PG.

By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree

Considering the advertising campaign for "Bandslam," there is no question why people labeled it a "High School Musical" wannabe with faux rockers instead of stage performers. I mean, after all, it does star HSM's Vanessa Hudgens and former Disney Channel star Alyson Machalka. On the surface, things look pretty grim for "Bandslam."

Gaelen Connell plays Will Burton, and he's not your typical high schooler. He writes letters to David Bowie, listens to indie and underground rock, gets picked on at school and lacks confidence. OK, maybe Will is more typical than we'd like to think. But at his high school in Cincinnati, Will remains the premier target for jocks.

Will moves to New Jersey with his mom (Lisa Kudrow), where he hopes things will be different. They're not. But Will is introduced to three things that pique his interest: The Bandslam competition, Sa5m (Hudgens--"The five is silent"), and Charlotte Barnes (Michalka), who has assembled a band of outsiders to compete.

Charlotte enlists Will's help as manager of the group. Her motives are suspect considering her ex's band, Ben Wheatley and The Glory Dogs, are the favorites to win Bandslam.

The movie plays out like an underdog sports movie with instruments, which would be disastrous in the wrong hands. "Camp Rock" meets "Rudy." But director Todd Graff and writer Josh A. Cagan avoid that mashup. Instead, they give us a surprisingly thoughtful and smart look at teenagers. "Bandslam" feels more like an indie pop movie with gloss than a Disney Channel original picture.

The cast does a remarkable job of sinking into their characters and coming together. Connell truly is a living, breathing incarnation of the gawky awkward high school kid. With his floppy afro hair--and being visibly uncomfortable in his own skin--Connell maintains a certain nerd charm essential to the character. Shades of a young Shia LaBeouf come out in Connell on more than one occasion.

Connell plays well off both Michalka and Hudgens, who both break type with "Bandslam"--Hudgens most of all. Will's love interest, Sa5m, is alienated in high school by choice, not because of a social malady. She loves Twizzlers, "Evil Dead 2," reading and being alone--it's a real stretch for an actress whom studios would be more comfortable cast as a pop culture princess. She pulls off her "Bandslam" loner well, which is key to setting the film apart from her better-known "High School Musical" series. With any luck, her choice of roles will broaden soon.

"Bandslam" isn't about prom or the big game, and it certainly avoids the teen angst route. Much like Gaff's debut film "Camp," "Bandslam" takes smart and artistic kids and throws them together to see what happens. The director gives his characters real problems and treats them with dignity. They deal with death, an unshakable family history, speech impediments and, above all else, confusion. That's where Graff and "Bandslam" excel.

Grade: B+

Watch the trailer for "Bandslam" below. What are your thoughts?

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