Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Little Band That Could

When gifted singer-songwriter Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka) asks new kid in town Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) to manage her fledgling rock band, she appears to have just one goal in mind: go head-to-head against her egotistical musician ex-boyfriend, Ben(Scott Porter), at the biggest event of the year, a battle of the bands. Against all odds, their band develops a sound all its own with a real shot at success in the contest. Meanwhile, romance brews between Will and Sa5m(Vanessa Hudgens), who plays a mean guitar and has a voice to die for. When disaster strikes, it's time for the band to make a choice: Do they admit defeat, or face the music and stand up for what they believe in in Bandslam.

A pleasant surprise on several levels, the film tells the story of Will (Connell), a geeky kid with an unpleasant life in Ohio. How unpleasant? He jumps up and down with delight when he finds out that his mother has a new job and they're moving to Lodi. Nothing against Lodi, mind you -- home of the Misfits and the Bada Bing. But when was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie in which someone was excited about moving to Jersey? As I said, "Bandslam" is a pleasant surprise. Not just for Garden State boosters, either. For one thing, the plot, in which Will helps the school's prettiest girl (Michalka) start a band while being simultaneously drawn to the school's quirkiest girl, Sa5m (Hudgens), is nicely skewed. Basically, it's the standard teen picture -- girl torn between bad boy and nice guy -- with a gender switch.) For another, the film itself is clean without being cloying. Authority figures aren't predictable simpletons (Will's mom, played by Lisa Kudrow, is funny, but not foolish), and the high school romances are limited to a few awkward kisses. There are no four-letter words, drugs or bathroom jokes. Perhaps that isn't such a shock; the movie is from Walden Media, a company that specializes in family fare like the "Narnia" series. Yet it's done so skillfully that even jaded teens may have too much fun to realize they're watching a PG movie. Admittedly, some of the film doesn't work. Parts could be funnier, or faster; a crucial dating mistake that Will makes seems more a product of the screenplay than his character.

But the movie gets a lot right. For starters, it cast real muscians (Connell and Michalka are both professioanlly involved with music), rather than actors who'd look foolish bursting into song. And that cast is effective. Connell is sympathetic as the geeky Will; Michalka is dangerously pretty as the school's Queen Bee. And the overexposed Hudgens is pleasant in a change-of-pace emo-girl role. But the most valuable player in Bandslam is Kudrow. Playing Will's concerned, overprotective, but still good-humored mother, she brightens up every scene. She's the definition of a great supporting actor. Bandslam is hardly the definition of a great movie, but it is pleasant and bright and doesn't insult its audience's intelligence. And that's as rare and welcome as a well-crafted three-minute pop song. This isn't just for the teens. I'm sure grownups will find something to cheer about in this movie as well. Very well put together musical dramedy. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

No comments: