Following in the footsteps of last year’s surprise charmer The Rocker, Bandslam continues the winning trend with another movie aimed at tweens about that ultimate fantasy of fantasies – becoming a rock star. The story follows Will (Gaelan Connell), a career high school loser from Cincinnati who wins the lottery (so to speak) when he is forced to move to New Jersey to be with his mom (played by Lisa Kudrow who is still being underutilized since her brilliant comeback in The Comeback). Without all the baggage that comes with being a known loser he reinvents himself at his school with much success.

Soon a girl named Charlotte (Alyson Michalka) takes him under her wing and learns about his encyclopedic music knowledge and drafts him to be the manager of her band who are preparing for the titular Bandslam competition for a chance to win a record contract. This is, of course, an unpaid gig, but at that age whatever the pretty blonde says usually goes. Charlotte comes with baggage of her own in the form of ex boyfriend and current Bandslam rival Ben. He is played by Scott Porter, most famous for his role as wheelchair bound Jason Street on Friday Night Lights, who just turned thirty so casting him as a high school student cuts at the film’s credibility.

At the same time as all that is going on, Will begins to burn his candle from the other end as he starts a friendship with Sa5m (it must be mentioned that the 5 is silent). She is a morose little thing who reads too much and feels too little, and is portrayed nicely by Vanessa Hudgens. So while there is much predictability in the way Will learns important life lessons about balancing relationships, what is not predictable is just how good this film turns out to be. While walking into the theatre, the idea of laughing once seemed like a pipe dream but somehow the writers (Josh Cagan and Todd Graff) build up an impressive pile of zingers that are filled with cultural criticisms. Even a throwaway line like "She has her own Wikipedia page" garnered big laughs and did plenty to develop those characters. There is even a nasty little twist hidden in there somewhere that is heavily foreshadowed but still has the potential to stun you.

Will builds the band up in the typical Hollywood way; he finds a bunch of misfits, blends their unusual talents together and magically creates the perfect team. It’s nonsense, obviously, and has been done to death so it adds nothing. The singing is also way too polished and the lip-syncing is questionable at best. But these are small complaints that get lost in a sea of goodness. The climax does indeed take place at the Bandslam competition and that scene allows Will to turn the biggest negative in his life into a positive. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll realize the whole thing is one big fairy tale. But one big fairy tale that is funny and effective. The film takes place in a world where you can climb to the top of the social ladder, above the rich kids and football players, just by knowing your Velvet Underground. Where the nerds can get their revenge by rising above the bullies and by rocking as hard as they can. It’s too bad so many people are going to skip this movie in an attempt to remain cool because that world, as made up as it is, is a lot of fun to visit for a few hours.

Starring: Gaelan Connell, Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Lisa Kudrow

Director: Todd Graff

Runtime: 111 minutes

Studio: Walden Media

Rating: PG

 

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