DVD Review: Incredibly Smart, Enjoyable Teen Comedy ‘Bandslam’

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CHICAGO – Movies with teenagers that don’t talk down to them and presents them in lovable, realistic ways are so few and far between that seeing one can almost send chills up a cynical critic’s spine. I don’t mean to over-praise what is ultimately a light film but with all the junk aimed at kids nowadays, the incredibly smart “Bandslam” practically feels like a revelation. Those of you buying “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” should be forced to pick this one up too. You won’t regret it.

HollywoodChicago.com Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 3.5/5.0

So many movies pretend to be like the teenager flicks of my youth a la John Hughes or Cameron Crowe but so few actually get what made those movies modern classics. For the most part, “Bandslam” director Todd Graff and co-writer Josh A. Cagan get it. Not all teenagers are sex-obsessed morons and some can intellectually discuss their passion for music and their issues with classmates. Funny, smart, and remarkably sweet, “Bandslam” works for anyone who’s ever been a teenager and even those about to be one.

Bandslam was released on DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Bandslam was released on DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

It doesn’t hurt to have a remarkably charismatic lead in future star Gaelan Connell as Will Burton, the “Lloyd Dobler” of the piece, a teenager who loves music and is about to learn a lesson or two about the mysteries of love. Will goes from being a social outcast in Cincinnati to a brand new social scene in New Jersey when his single mother Karen (a great and subtle Lisa Kudrow) gets a new job. Will discovers that his new school is centered around something called “Bandslam,” a live music contest that rallies the entire city.

Bandslam was released on DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Bandslam was released on DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Photo credit: Summit Entertainment

Will is basically drafted by one of the prettiest girls in school, a senior cheerleader named Charlotte (Aly Michalka of “Aly & AJ,” showing some true screen presence) who needs the musically talented young man to manage her band now that her ex-boyfriend (Scott Porter) and lead singer has left them in the dust. Will also befriends an eccentric, quiet girl named Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens, much more interesting than in the “High School Musical” films) — the ‘5’ is silent — and the eventual love triangle is crystal clear although doesn’t play out nearly as predictably as you might think. Of course, it all ends at a band contest, but Graff handles it with a sweet intellect rarely seen in the teen movie genre.

Yes, “Bandslam” is too long at almost two hours and some of the dialogue is too cliched, especially in the love triangle, but the clear love for these characters makes it easier to overlook. The final act doesn’t quite work because of the melodrama injected into it that tears Will and Charlotte apart in an overbaked scene on a front lawn, but the film redeems itself with a musical last half hour that actually features — gasp — good music. Graff made sure that everyone in the cast could sing and play the instruments required of their characters and the actual talent elevates the film in ways other producers clearly don’t understand.

Despite nearly universal acclaim, “Bandslam” completely bombed at the box office and made less than $6 million. It’s a shame although I think word of mouth for the title will give it a long life on DVD. Summit Entertainment is still getting their act together after having a Best Picture winner (“The Hurt Locker”) and massive hit (“The Twilight Saga: New Moon”) in 2009. Who knew they had a cult-hit-in-the-making as well?

The standard DVD of “Bandslam” looks and sounds truly mediocre. It almost seems like standard presentations are getting lazier in the era of Blu-ray as if you really cared about that kind of thing you wouldn’t buy a DVD anyway, so why put any effort into it? “Bandslam” deserved a better tech treatment, especially on the audio end.

As for special features, “Bandslam” includes a 20-minute featurette called “Bandslam: Making the Band,” an audio commentary with director and cast, deleted scenes with director’s introduction, “Honor Society” music video, and a Vanessa Hudgens musical performance.

‘Bandslam’ was released by Summit Home Video and stars Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Hudgens, Aly Michalka, Scott Porter, and Lisa Kudrow. It was written by Todd Graff and Josh A. Cagan and directed by Graff. It was released on DVD on March 16th, 2010. It is rated PG.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

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Thank YOU

This is such an amazing film that I hope people will check out. Thank you Brian for another great review and pointing out the John Hughes/Cameron Crowe reference as I am from the same generation. This is a film for all ages. It’s one of the reasons why I love this film so much. People should remember, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” meaning don’t look at the DVD cover and believe this is something meant for little kids. It’s not. Also it should be noted, not that you would know unless you bought it that part of the proceeds from the DVD go to VH1’s Save the Music. I didn’t know this until I pressed play. People should pick it up as it’s a double win - a great film to watch over and over and support for a great foundation. Thanks again.

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