Growing up is hard. There's puberty and the figuring-out-how-to-appeal-to-the-opposite-sex challenge, and then there's the whole fitting-into-high-school thing, which can be one big, awkward mess. It might behoove forgetful adults to remember this and see Bandslam, which is sort of like the love child of the Disney channel and an indie-film project after a steamy night in the Poconos. Yes, Bandslam has its shortcomings--it's a bit cheesy and it's definitely for a teen crowd--but the poppish, over-produced vibe can be forgiven to an extent because of its visual flair and attempt at character development. There's just something kind of heart-warming and refreshing about the whole story. Maybe because you can share a part of it: Perhaps you remember the innocence and nostalgia associated with assembling a band in the garage and playing that one Zeppelin song over and over and over again--whether it was 30 years ago or five.
Bandslam follows Will Burton (Gaelan Connell), an unabashedly devoted David Bowie fan. His voice-over narration starts with a daily letter to his idol, and Will quickly reveals himself as a music connoisseur. He and his mom Karen (Lisa Kudrow) have just relocated from Cincinnati to New Jersey. At his new high school, Will is introduced to Bandslam, the annual battle of the bands that promises the winner a record deal. He is also introduced to Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka), former cheerleader, rocker, teen beauty, etc. Oh yeah, and she's a senior. Hot.
Charlotte recruits Will as her band manager--Bandslam has a bit of Kate Hudson/Patrick Fugit Almost Famous thing going between Charlotte and Will, the shy, smart, sensitive outcast who knows more about music than most 60-year-olds--and the two form a group for the competition, rivaling Charlotte's ex-boyfriend, whose band is favored to win. Of course, Charlotte and Will assemble a motley group, including a cellist, a horn section, and a classical pianist. And, of course, the band rocks--hard. Will also develops a thing with his classmate Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens, yes, the five is silent), who warns him against Charlotte. But the happily-ever-afterness of the movie makes you feel good at the end, despite some necessary drama, jealousy, and hard-core rocking along the way.
Sure, there are highly manufactured moments of pop glamor and cheesy dialogue, but the wise-beyond-his-years Will stymies some of the silly moments, especially as you learn more about him. And Bandslam makes an honest-to-goodness effort at being a coming-of-age teen flick set apart from its kin, the often shallow and overdone take on teenage life. Even Hudgens' stoic, monotone character compensates for her High School Musical lineage. The movie reminds adults to remember what got them through those formative years, when clicks and name-calling were common fare. Whether it was good friends or music or both, Bandslam is essentially about growing up and finding your groove.