Reviewed by Adam Boult
Stars Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens, Alyson Michalka,
Lisa Kudrow, Scott Porter, Ryan Donohow, Elvy Yost,
Charlie Saxton, Lisa Chung
Written by Josh A Cagan & Todd Graff
Certification UK PG | US PG
Runtime 112 minutes
Directed by Todd Graff
This thoroughly likeable high school comedy stars newcomer Connell as Will Burton, a music-obsessed Shia LaBeouf look-alike who transfers to a New Jersey high school where, luck would have it, the local battle of the bands contest is valued more highly than regular school pursuits like team sports or education.
After witnessing a cafeteria gig by "Glory Dogs", the school's very own glossy AOR-ish outfit led by grade-A douchebag Ben, Will cements his cool outsider status by proclaiming it as "like a Nuremberg Rally produced by MTV". Before long, douchebag Ben's popular ex-girlfriend Charlotte (Michalka) takes Will under her wing and, impressed by his knowledge of slightly obscure indie rock, convinces him to manage her band, a collection of goofy misfits that she hopes can take on the execrable Glory Dogs in the battle of the bands.
From there on Bandslam plays much like a teen version of The Commitments, filtered through the Disney Channel and with a detour via School of Rock. Will employs his superior musical knowledge to mould his charges into an adequate ska-lite outfit, recruiting the school's resident psycho on drums (a stand-out performance from Ryan Donowho), and an assortment of beleaguered geeks on piano, cello and brass. As with The Commitments, the cast were subjected to a musical audition before an acting audition, and their ability lends a much-needed degree of credibility to the performance sequences at the film's core. Coming from the same director as the ambivalently received Camp, and featuring High School Musical veteran Hudgens (playing against type as an awkward loner), Bandslam manages to transcend its roots by sneaking some serious emotional heft into the story, along with some surprisingly decent music. The Velvet Underground and Nick Drake feature prominently on the soundtrack, David Bowie is name-checked throughout, and there's even references to Sonic Youth, Eels and Bad Brains.
While only a lunatic would claim this lends the film any genuine credibility, Bandslam is nevertheless a much more edifying spectacle than the saccharine horrors of the High School Musical juggernaut. It could even lead some of it's young audience to download some Velvet Underground tracks or, better yet, pick up a musical instrument, and for that it's to be applauded. With some genuine laughs, solid support from Kudrow as Will's over-protective mum, and a thoroughly satisfying dénouement, Bandslam is a great kids film that should appeal to anyone who's ever daydreamed about getting up onstage to make some noise.