Reviews

Bandslam

Knowing that you know the drill, Bandslam leaves out most too-explanatory details, and lets the kids be kidlike rather than movie-kidlike.


Bandslam

Director: Todd Graff
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Alyson Michalka, Gaelen Connell, Lisa Kudrow, Charlie Saxton, Tim Jo, Scott Porter
Rated: PG
Studio: Walden Media
Year: 2009
US date: 2009-08-14 (General release)
UK date: 2009-08-12 (General release)
Website
Trailer

"Dear David Bowie." As a way to start up a movie about a high school band, you could do worse than this phrase. Each day, Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) writes a missive to the man he admires most, describing his hopes and disappointments, his feelings about school ("It's mostly like Novocain for the soul"). He also writes about music. Because Will's tastes and interests diverge from those of his peers, he imagines in Bowie a kindred spirit, someone who will appreciate what he appreciates.

At the beginning of Bandlsam, Will is not close to appreciating anything. Having suffered just the latest indignity at the hands of a bully, he gets off the school bus with wet hair. His mother Karen (Lisa Kudrow) greets him with sympathy and good news: she has a new job, she says, so they'll be moving to Lodi, New Jersey. For a moment Will is happy. But only for a moment: he soon remembers that he's done this before, moved to a new school, and every time it's the same: "It's not gonna be any better," he sighs, shoulders slumped. "That's the Will Burton I know and love," Karen jokes, before she says what she always says: "You are not the problem. You are terrific."

Karen is right. This kid is pretty terrific, and that little plot point goes a long way toward saving Bandslam from being the movie it might have been, that is, another iteration of High School Musical or Bring It On, though it shares elements of both. As much as Will's a misfit and a loner, he's also yearning to connect -- and what better way to make that happen than by giving him a group project? Or, even better, two projects, each with its own pretty girl attached Within minutes of his arrival at Martin Van Buren High School, Will has been is paired with Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgeons) in Human Science class, assigned to come up with biographies of each other to present to the other students. At first, he's daunted, not only by her gothy-lite look and predilection for reading real books like O, Pioneers, but also by her determined distinctiveness. "The 5 is silent," she informs him when she reveals her name. Okay.

Sa5m could not be more different than Will's other project partner, the boisterously self-confident former cheerleader Charlotte (Alyson Michalka) -- except that both are played by Disney TV stars. When she hears that Will knows something about music, Charlotte has him over to her lace to check out her new band, hoping to get them prepared for the statewide contest "Bandslam." They're a feeble if enthusiastic trio -- two short boys backing their vivacious singer. Will immediately diagnoses what's wrong: they need to lose the drum machine and get a real human drummer (this will be Basher, played by Ryan Donowho, grappling with anger management issues), come up with a good song, and add some sound-thickening backing instruments (keyboards, horns, and a cello played by the Elvish-speaking Irene [Elvy Yost]). (He names the band "I Can't Go On, I'll Go On," conveying something about how he feels about his own involvement.) Will does Bowie proud, encouraging the musicians to loosen up and innovate -- of course, this leads to a great sound right away, not realistic, but efficient: you don't need more, you’ve seen something like this movie before.

Knowing that you know the drill, Bandslam leaves out other too-explanatory details, and moreover, lets the kids be kidlike rather than movie-kidlike. For one thing, it mostly opts out of showing adults as role models, good or bad. This is a teens' world, their urgent needs and fears shape the film's perspective. Apart from Karen, moms and dads are invisible and teachers, briefly on-screen, are mostly inattentive and careless. Also to the film's focus on the kids' issues, Karen's primary function is to fill in Will's history. The revelation of this history brings predictable drama and the requisite drummer joke (fiercely proud and protective of her son, Karen insists that she'd do it all again to have her wonderful boy, and at the time, well, "I was 19 and he was a drummer!").

None of this plotty stuff is particularly persuasive, but it does give Will a chance to sort out his mixed-up feelings about Sa5m and Charlotte, as the girls both have their own complicated family situations, barely noted, but enough to suggest that they're more like kids you might know than the cardboard facsimiles who usually populate high school movies. That's not to say Bandslam avoids all generic pitfalls: the montages are too cute, the bullies are ignorant, the on-stage climax is way too square after all the efforts to resist convention. (That said, when the heretofore modest Sa5m cuts loose with her big finale song, she's pretty much irresistible.) Most happily, Will's a sweet and very supportive boy, original and rebellious in his way, and Sa5m and Charlotte are right-off independent girls who don't have to learn how to kowtow to be accepted or admired. If it sounds like a David Bowie song, that's only good.

6

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.