Bandslam is three-quarters of an entertaining movie. It’s too long and has three too many dead spots, but given the low expectations I had going in to see a rock and roll high school fable headlined by two Disney stars, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a complete waste of time and the Bowie songs on the soundtrack rock.
At the beginning of the film Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is a loner with a David Bowie fixation. His high school career has been spent either being bullied or ignored by his classmates and his long e-mails to Bowie’s fan site are the only thing that keeps him on an even keel. When he moves to a new school in a new state it looks like it will be same old until he meets Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka) and romantic interest Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens), two classmates who recognize that he has something to offer. Charlotte asks him to manage the band she wants to enter in Bandslam, the annual battle of the bands. How popular is the event? “It’s like Texas High School Football big,” says one character. Charlotte is determined to beat her ex-boyfriend’s band and Will is the kind of Phil Spector musical wiz kid that might be able to give her the edge.
Bandslam is part Disney show, part Monkees, part music video and part Mickey and Judy. There’s a lot going on here, and not all of it is good, but the stuff that is good is worth a peek.
First the bad. Bandslam is half-an-hour too long. Some montage chopping would have worked wonders to bring down the occasionally bordering-on-torturous hour and fifty minute running time. The end could have been tightened up considerably. The battle of the bands sequence drags on and on and not only does it feel extended, the bands look far too old and far too slick to be high school students.
Next is the music. Early on the soundtrack rocks; nicely selected cuts by Bowie, The Velvet Underground and Nick Drake are unexpected and ear friendly, and even one of the fictional band’s tunes called Amphetamine tunes it up to eleven, but as time wears on the music begins to sound a bit too Tin Pan Alley for a rock flick.
There is also a tone problem and I don’t mean as in pitch. The movie can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a Disney movie or a teen indie flick with a good soundtrack. It often has the attitude and look of an indie but careens into Disney land when it over sentimentalizes the kiddie romance. The mushy stuff is a little too Mickey Mouse, not enough Bowie.
Having said all that I have to point out that most times when the movie begins to slip into cliché and cheese it rights itself with a snappy line or an unexpected plot twist.
Add to that a very appealing performance by newcomer Gaelan Connell as outcast Will and you have a movie that I was determined to hate but couldn’t. Bandslam is a surprisingly fun little music movie that is just a couple of notes away from being completely in tune.
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