Friday, May 10, 2013

Movie Review: Bandslam

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Real characters draw you into a great story.
Cons: Nobody watched it.
The Bottom Line:
Surprisingly real
Even if you know the end
You'll still be cheering

The High School Musical Clone that Deserves to be Texas Football Huge

Based solely on the first week's box office, Bandslam looked like a bomb.  It couldn't even open in the top 10.  Heck, it didn't even open in both theaters in my town.  I began to take all of this as a sign the movie was bad, and my initial enthusiasm to see it started to go away.  But I decided to go see it anyway, and I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it.

Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is just trying to survive high school.  He's the brunt of all the kids in Cincinnati, so he's delighted when his mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) gets a new job in Lodi, New Jersey.

Arriving at his new school, Will discovers that the big event of the year is Bandslam, a regional battle of the bands with a recording contract as the grand prize.  Even given his life long interest in music, he has no plans to participate.  In fact, he's trying to stay as invisible as possible.

But on his path to invisibility, Will makes a couple of friends.  The first is Sa5m, and the 5 is silent (Vanessa Hudgens), a girl with no friends, who never smiles, reads all the time, and speaks in a monotone.  Then there's Charlotte (Aly Michalka), the former head cheerleader who thinks that Will would make a great manager for the band she is putting together.  Is she right?  Will he do it?  And how will he deal with his new social life?

I went into the movie expecting a High School Musical clone complete with one of the stars, which isn't a bad thing considering how much I love that franchise.  And there are some similarities.  The band that comes together is really a bunch of misfits.  The plot does manage to throw some twists into the story I wasn't expecting, which really drew me into it.

What really make this a rich movie were the characters.  We get to know our three main characters on the surface early on, but as the movie progresses, we truly see what makes them tick.  In fact, there is a powerful scene in the middle where a hurt Sa5m tells Will (and their class) exactly what she thinks of him.  And she's right.  There are less subtle scenes like that for all of these characters.  Even some of the supporting players come alive.

And as the story progresses, they all grow as people.  Honestly, this was the most predictable part of the story, but I didn't mind.  The characters were so real to me, I bought every second of it.

Things start out pretty funny.  In fact, there were some genuine laughs as we watch the characters get to know each other.  And Will's narration in the form of letters to David Bowie adds some laughs as well.  The second half takes things in a much more serious direction.  But it doesn't feel forced at all.  Again, it's an outgrowth of the characters.

Quite obviously, much of this rests on the shoulders of the young cast.  Will's mom is the only adult we really get to know.  And the cast completely pulls it off.  I can't fault one performance if I tried.

Then there's the music.  Will is an indie rock fan, although I wouldn't call much of the music here indie rock.  There is some rock and some pop and even a little folk in the soundtrack.  It works as a way to advance the story.  This isn't a musical in the true sense of the word.  The characters only sing as part of band practices or performances.

Bandslam really is a nice, uplifting movie.  Don't let the fact that it stars teens fool you; adults can enjoy it as well.  I truly hope word of mouth saves it from the obscure fate it appears to be facing.

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