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Charlie Saxton, left, Gaelan Connell, Alyson Michalka and Tim Jo: some nice observational and comedy moments.

Photo Credit: Van Redin/© 2008 Summit Entertainment, LLC., and Walden Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

2 out of 4 stars



  • Directed by Todd Graff
  • Starring Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Alyson Michalka, Gaelan Connell, Scott Porter and Lisa Kudrow
  • Classification: NA

The recent death of screenwriter-director John Hughes has got people of a certain vintage thinking about teen movies, specifically his string of pop-culturally influential 1980s high-school films ( Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off ), still discovered and loved by tweens and teens today.

It's hard to imagine youngsters 20 years from now considering Bandslam a cult classic, not that it doesn't admirably distance itself from Disney's hugely popular High School Musical franchise by assembling a Hughes-like teen gang and tossing in some Cameron Crowe rock'n'roll vibe for good measure.

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Recent advance press has mostly focused on Vanessa Anne Hudgens, who stars as the book-reading, song-belting Gabriella Montez in the High School Musical flicks. Bandslam finds her still in high school as the book-reading but comparatively introverted Sa5m ("The five is silent"), whose musical gifts are only revealed in the movie's final act.

Despite her loner attitude, Sa5m is the first person to speak to fellow junior Will (Gaelan Connell), a music geek newly arrived at a New Jersey high school, whose story anchors the film. Like the kid in Crowe's Almost Famous , Will is a scribe but he's not quite ready for Rolling Stone. He writes diary-like e-mails to his musical hero, David Bowie. Will's whiny little missives become more upbeat after his music smarts are recruited by singer-songwriter Charlotte (Alyson Michalka), a blond-bombshell senior who has given up cheerleading to focus on her fledgling band.

Unlike Hughes's teen movies, Bandslam doesn't flesh out supporting characters or exploit the dynamics of social cliques. It feels like a missed opportunity, but perhaps is a blessing since Bandslam 's dialogue is much more pat than Hughes's quotable writing. Instead, the movie focuses on Will's evolving friendships with the two young women, occasionally touching on his single mom's (Lisa Kudrow) separation anxiety as she copes with the fact her son now has friends.

In human studies, Will pairs up with Sa5m for an assignment requiring each student to make a presentation that creatively reveals who their partner really is as a person. This means they hang out a lot. As their deadline approaches, Will takes her for a road trip to Manhattan's defunct club CBGB, where they sneak in to get a whiff of legendary punk rock glory.

Too bad that whiff doesn't waft to New Jersey, where, Will now spends his remaining extra-curricular hours managing Charlotte's band. As so often happens in music movies, the character's cool musical taste doesn't translate into tunes the band produces. But it starts off promising. After recruiting a drummer, cellist, pianist and three-piece horn section and giving the band the cool moniker I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, Will makes them jam (not bad!). I suppose I was hoping for something like the sprawling post-punk sounds of Arcade Fire (a Bowie fave) to emerge from this motley high-school ensemble. No such luck.

Personal complications interfere as everyone gears up for a tri-state contest in which the band will compete against its in-school rivals, led by Charlotte's former beau (Scott Porter), and other groups (played by real Austin-area bands) for the top prize of a recording contract.

Bandslam offers some nice observational and comedy moments, and director and co-writer Todd Graff deftly deliver the coming-of-age goods for the three main characters. But its American Idol -style singing, handling of tunesmithery (the real Bowie would never take notice) and lack of sparkling teen chatter prevent this movie from being a slam dunk.

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