There’s been a glut of carefree, high school song and dance flicks recently, all of them taking their cue from the unexpected success of High School Musical. While HSM star Vanessa Hudgens is front and centre in Bandslam; this is not your average copycat teen-pleaser, yet it never quite figures out what it wants to be.
The film starts with Will Burton (Gaelen Connell) – your typical high-school misfit - with an obsession for music and worrying habit of writing a diary to his hero David Bowie. He moves schools determined to reinvent himself and even get a girlfriend, so when he meets Charlotte (Alyson Michalka), the school hottie, he quickly starts managing her band – giving it the deliciously indie name “I can’t go on, I’ll go on”. As he drives the band to greatness, he finds himself torn between Charlotte and kooky, but sweet oddball Sa5m (Hudgens – the five is silent). Under Will’s tutelage, ICGOIGO make it to Bandlsam – a battle of the bands contest that is “Texas High School football big” at Will’s school. At Bandslam, either crowd-pleasing glory or shameful defeat awaits.
On paper Bandslam is a golden ticket – rousing songs, a high-school setting, fantastically good looking people, and important messages about growing up. But, from the start, it has ideas above its station. All the teen movie clichés are there - the cliques, the quickly identified jock, nerd, shy-but-sensitive one, but as it goes on these rules are broken and the early simplistic set-ups are subverted. It’s a subtle, but deliberate effort by director Todd Graff to elevate the film above your usual school drama.
It’s the little things that change the tone so much. ICGOIGO play their own variant of ska – a genre not usually favoured by tweenagers and the frequent nods to Cameron Crowe’s oeuvre, especially Almost Famous (Michalka is Penny Lane in all but name) will go over the heads of many of the film’s target audience. Most strikingly, the films ethics are a step-up from the usual as the characters are given complex motivitations and a genuinely ambiguous morality.
The result is a strange mix of the uncomplicated and familiar with the ambitious and intelligent. And while slightly odd, in its own way it represents the awkward period of adolescence which most high-school movies miss.
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