Poor Will Burton (Gaelan Connell). His school sucks, he’s constantly bullied, he has no friends, and he writes daily emails to David Bowie (which serve as our voice-over narration), but is never given a response. The day we join him, he’s knocked down by one of the jocks, called “Dewey” and then has a water balloon dropped on him while he was on the ground. After getting home, his mother (Lisa Kudrow) asks him what she can say to make it better. He tells her that he wants her to quit her job and have them move. So that’s what happens, as she had already quit her job (for whatever reason).
They move, and he gets to a new school. A fresh start could do him some good, we figure. At lunch, a band begins playing, and we’re told that in 3,600 hours, an event called “Bandslam” will take place. Everyone but Will and a girl named Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) go up to the stage and cheer. She explains that the “5” in her name is silent, and that they have one class together. They partner up for a project, and their friendship begins. They both hate the mall, they’re both largely antisocial, and they seem to get along quite well.
The next day, Will is approached by the popular Charlotte (Aly Michalka). She’s in a band, and has him tag along to rehearsal. Before he knows it, he’s making suggestions and is told that he’s the new manager. They’re going to try to compete in Bandslam, even though the high school is already entering one band, led by Charlotte’s ex-boyfriend Ben (Scott Porter). Will is more popular than he’s ever been before — he does have two whole friends now — and he’s having the time of his life. What could go wrong?
Well, for a lot of the time, not all that much. things go swimmingly up until the final half hour, or thereabouts at least. I won’t spoil what exactly happens, but characters switch around in ways you may or may not expect. Unfortunately, these changes don’t last all that long, usually reversed in the next scene or sometimes two scenes down the line, and they end up not amounting to much. That’s too bad, but it allows the characters to grow without expanding the runtime a great deal, which means that Bandslam doesn’t feel too bloated.
So, yeah, it’s a coming-of-age comedy involving two former Disney stars and a largely unknown actor. It feels a lot life a Disney film, except that the dialogue isn’t as frothy as you’d expect from that type of film. For instance, Sa5m thinks that “emotion is overrated,” while Will asks David Bowie “how do you tell Pinocchio he’ll never be a real boy?” after first seeing Charlotte’s band. the dialogue was actually quite well-written, and for the most part, I enjoyed listening to these characters interact with one another.
It should be noted that there are some musical numbers within the film, although apart from the Bandslam at the end, they only occur during practice, and they don’t last particularly long. It isn’t a musical where characters burst into song whenever they feel like it, but those of you who dislike singing in movies will get annoyed by Bandslam. At least the two singers (Michalka and Hudgens) actually are singers in real life, and that actually helps lend some credibility and believability to their roles.
Eventually, things degenerate into melodrama without much actual reason for it. A blown-off date (to see Evil Dead II, I might add), a death in the family, and suddenly Will has messed everything up. But, like I mentioned earlier, things seem to fix themselves too quickly for it to make much of an impact. I get that it helps the pacing, but sometimes time needs to be spent in solving the problems instead of just allowing them to arbitrarily solve themselves. Although, since it became a problem without much reason, I guess solving it that way sticks with that idea.
Maybe their sudden turns would have made more sense if their characters were more developed. Will is the loner kid, the one that nobody should like, and I understood why. Even when he was hanging out with two of the prettiest girls in school, he was still complaining — although the “why” to his complaints was overlooked. Charlotte is just really nice for most of the time, but then has a turn later that makes little sense. Sa5m’s switch around kind of makes sense, as she’s not one to sing to sky to begin with, but the turnaround afterward doesn’t ring true to the note she was playing. We needed more depth to these characters, and while there’s ample opportunity to give it, that never happens.
For a large portion of the film’s second act, nothing of importance happens. Relationships develop, sure, but in terms of plot, there isn’t anything. We could have been given hints regarding these characters or been told something about them that would make later actions make sense. But nothing of the sort happens, and we meander around for more than half of the film, not accomplishing anything. We still enjoy the time because the dialogue is funny and these people are likable, but their surface-level in terms of depth.
Bandslam is a watchable, family-friendly experience that will actually be watchable for most of the adults as well. Or, it will be unless you hate musical numbers in films, because there are a few here. At the very least, it has likable — albeit shallow — characters and some intelligent dialogue. Oh, and there’s also a David Bowie cameo. If nothing else, you might giggle with glee when that happens.