There is a moment in Bandslam when the hero Will Burton (played with appropriate geekiness by Galean Connell) is being consoled by his mother (played with appropriate kookiness by Lisa Kudrow). She begins to explain why she got married to his dad, and we’re thinking, okay, we know how these conversations go. Until Will interrupts her with, “Mom, you’re doing that thing again where you speak to me like I’m Oprah.”
Which makes me wonder: how does a film that is capable of dialogue like that also find itself capable of useless mush, weak character development and musical performances that are far more lacklustre than the actors headlining the cast would lead you to expect.
Not that it’s all bad. Vanessa Hudgens has a natural appeal that shines through when she isn’t playing the generic teenage vixen in her music videos. Aly Michalka takes what is a horribly written character and sells it by creating someone who is charming enough on the surface that you don’t really worry that there might be nobody underneath. Galean Connell manages the near-impossible feat of looking terrified and repulsed by the prospect of kissing a beautiful girl, and for that he deserves kudos.
The interesting part is how they all are transformed when they make music. Hudgens plays an introverted loner who suddenly looks like she got herself a portable nuclear reactor when she gets up on stage. Michalka plays a sunnier character to begin with, but the effect is no less dramatic. As for Connell, there is something very pleasurable about watching someone who enjoys his music that much. All this, even though the music is nothing to write home about.
As a whole package, it doesn’t work as well as I wish it had. But it does provide the occasional laugh, some interesting performances and that priceless Oprah line. One could do worse.
ps: The plot, you ask? Misfit teenager moves to new school, gets entangled with a bunch of misfits and helps form a band. There’s a high school rock band contest in the end. You can fill in the rest.
pps: Oh, and there’s David Bowie. If that helps any.