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Movies Review

Bandslam

By
Bandslam
Director: Todd Graff
Screenwriter: Todd Graff, Josh A. Cagan
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Alyson Michalka, Gaelan Connell, Scott Porter, Ryan Donowho, Lisa Kudrow
Running time: 111 mins
Certificate: PG

Let's face it, in Hollywood there's never been any shortage of rock star movie cameos. We've had Billy Idol in The Wedding Singer, Alice Cooper in Wayne's World, even Alanis Morissette popping up in Dogma. And now, we have David Bowie in a Vanessa Hudgens movie... Yup, hot on the heels of High School Musical co-star Zac Efron's stab at comedy in 17 Again, Hudgens is attempting to break her Disney stereotype in this film about an outcast student who falls for a geeky band manager. Okay, so it's a movie about a band, not exactly the most risky career choice, but with references to everyone from the Ramones to Joan Jett and a healthy dose of punk history thrown in, it's definitely far removed from the squeaky clean shine of East High. So, breaking free from the mould and without a multi-million dollar franchise behind her, can she impress with a guitar in her hands?

Walking music encyclopedia Will (Connell) can't believe his luck when his dog trainer mum (a fabulously overprotecive and cynical Kudrow) lands a new job and he is given a second chance at high school. Used to being the social misfit and spending his days dodging the bullies, he's amazed when he finds his new school is obsessed with a music competition called Bandslam, which allows local artists the opportunity to win a recording contract. Even better, he thinks he's found the perfect girl in moody classmate Sa5m - "that's Sam with a silent 5" - (Hudgens), a fellow outcast who shuns friendships and thinks that "emotion is overrated". But of course, the path of true love never does run smooth and problems soon arise in the form of beautiful, blonde cheerleader Charlotte (Michalka) who inexplicably takes a shine to Will, much to the annoyance of Sa5m who smells an ulterior motive.

Soon enough, Will finds himself helping Charlotte launch her own band (I Can't Go On, I Will Go On) to compete against the school's hot favourites, led by her former boyfriend and resident heartthrob Ben (Porter). Along the way, he has to contend with a dark family secret, work out his true feelings for Charlotte and fight for Sa5m's friendship, which brings us on to the strangest and indeed most disappointing aspect of the movie. For a project billed as a Hudgens leading vehicle, she is given surprisingly little screen time. As the monotonous wallflower Sa5m, her background and the eventual revelation of her hidden talent are given practically no explanation, while her natural sweetness and comedic timing are often overshadowed by the more extrovert and dominant Charlotte, whose family life and romantic entanglings take priority.

Even more strangely, for a movie about music, Hudgens's involvement with Will's band is practically non-existent for about 90% of the story. At times she seems to be there purely as a sounding board for Will's emotions, which seems a shame considering her obvious musical talents. On a similar note, the film's main track, a reggae ska remix of David Gates's 'Everything I Own', and the sickly sweet 'Phil's Song' unfortunately fail to inspire and definitely aren't as memorable as some more recent musical movie offerings. That being said, Will's daily letter writing to David Bowie provides plenty of laughs and is made even better by the legendary rocker's wonderfully welcome (albeit very convenient) cameo towards the credits. Kudrow also deserves praise for her typically kooky, yet totally spot-on portrayal of Karen, the single mum whose one-sided love affair with the band's drummer (Donowho) provides plenty of laughs.

Bandslam is not a musical in the sense of people bursting into song in the middle of the cafeteria, but it's a safe enough option for Hudgens considering her background and there's no denying that it will appeal to younger fans. The main revelation is Hudgens herself, who manages to outshine her castmates despite her measly screen time. Kooky, cute and genuinely funny, she proves that she can play the emo-chick just as well as the brain box, making this an immensely enjoyable, if predictable, ride.


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