The Fun Goes Up to…Well, Eight, At Least
There’s a high school and some music, but that’s where the similarities end
By Kristen Page-Kirby
The marketing of Bandslam—High School Musical Star Vanessa Hudgens and “Phil of the Future” actress Alyson Michalka in front of an awkward-looking (and mostly-unknown) Gaelan Connell suggests that the two impossibly airbrushed girls carry the movie. And, if you’re not a fan of movies that feature impossibly airbrushed girls (even if they carry guitars), you probably don’t want to see Bandslam.
And that would almost be a mistake. Because while I’m not going to recommend this to everyone, if you have a tween and that tween wants to see this movie, you can go and have fun and not once want to kill yourself! In fact, you’ll probably enjoy it.
I’ll give you a minute to scrape yourself off the floor.
Will (Connell) is an outcast of a kid; he’s got that downtrodden look, shaggy hair and a near-insane passion for music, which means that, when he gets to college, some girl like me will date him for far too long. Ignored by everyone—unless they’re tormenting him—things start looking up when he and his mom (Lisa Kudrow) move to New Jersey. At the new high school, the social circle revolves around an area-wide Battle of the Bands called Bandslam. The band to beat from their high school is Glory Dogs, fronted by Ben (Scott Porter of “Friday Night Lights,” who, by the way, just turned 30 this year according to imdb.com, so I no longer feel bad about what I thought was an age-inappropriate crush.) Blonde bombshell Charlotte (Michalka) befriends Will and gets him to manage her band—conveniently forgetting to tell him that she (and the rest of her band) used to be in Glory Dogs until Ben decided they were expendable.
Will turns out to be a brilliant manager, smart and savvy, and the band begins to soar. Ben also has a crush on Sa5m (no, that’s not a typo. The “5” is silent.) (Hudgens), who is the outsider a la Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club, only Sheedy could act. Hudgens speaks like Daria on Quaaludes—they try to explain that she used to have a stutter, but it just comes off as an awkward, unworkable choice.
Ben’s new band, I Can’t Go On I’ll Go On, turns out to be awesome and goes to the competition, overcoming hurdles along the way. And most of the hurdles flow naturally from the story and aren’t hokey or based on the “Three’s Company” school of Misunderstandings Make Things Funny.
One thing that irked is that both Hudgens and Michalka appear in their hair-extensioned false-eyelashed best, while the two other girls in the band (no, I don’t know their names. I’m not even sure they HAVE names) and all of the guys appear…well, like high school kids. It’s a jarring visual—why not have the makeup artists tone it down a bit? I’m sure both girls are perfectly nice looking once you break out the trowel and get some of that makeup off.
A smart choice by director Todd Graff (Death to Smoochy and The Beautician and the Beast) is that one of the themes of the movie, both visually and narratively, is how recorded kids’ lives todays are. Cellphone videos and pictures play a prominent role, both in moving the story along to its nicely surprising, yet entirely believable, climax and in the look of the film.
There are a few kisses; Charlotte chastely appears in Will’s bed (both are fully clothed and atop the covers). There’s a mention of drunk driving, but not in a positive or humorous way. Charlotte is a bad driver. That’s it in terms of objectionable material, unless you count the fact that I felt old when U2 was described as “classic rock.”
The soundtrack and musical allusions that infiltrate the movie will be a particular pleasure to parents; Will makes a strong case to Sa5m (every time I type that I hate myself a little bit) about how one band leads into another. And don’t be surprised if your kids bug you to buy them that white album with the pretty banana on the cover.
Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family magazine.