“Bandslam” balances precariously between quirky, interesting hipster-indie and annoying Disney-Channel blather.
One the one hand, we’ve got Gaelen Connell and Lisa Kudrow. Connell reminds me of a young John Cusack; geeky, intelligent, drawn into himself. Kudrow plays his mother, and the two develop a unique chemistry as a single mother and son who are also each other’s best friend and biggest fan, though neither would admit it, because that would be weird. She is the mom who is both worried about her son and convinced he’s amazing; he’s the son who’s glad he’s got such a cool mom, but wonders if she’s the reason he doesn’t have a social life. Their relationship is authentic and effortless, and fun to watch.
On the other hand, we’ve got Alyson Michalka (of Disney teen-bop band 78Violet,) the typically annoying teen female lead who gets away with saying annoying things like “I don’t do whys” because she’s blonde and hot, and Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”,) the shy loner cute girl whose name is Sa5m – the 5 is silent. Really.
Michalka is an ex-cheerleader who has started a band to compete in the strangely huge band contest from which the movie takes its title, against her ex-boyfriend. She finds in Connell, the new kid at school, exactly what she needs to make her band the best ever. Turns out it’s a little bit of knowledge about music– she is terribly impressed that he’s heard of Velvet Underground. He becomes their manager, tunes their instruments, adds a string section and changes their name from “Glory Dogs” to “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On” — because they want to sound more like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah than Three Dog Night.
“Blandslam” lives pretty firmly on the quirky hipster side of things, Connell’s geekiness overpowering Michalka’s obnoxiousness, until the third act. The scale tips when the band picks the song they’ll use for the competition–and it totally sucks. No one who writes letters to David Bowie, who is versed in Velvet Underground, whose favorite place in the world is CBGB, would be happy with the pop confection the band finally enters into the contest. This is Hilary Duff fluff, not Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. And then from there, it’s like “Bandslam” just can’t help itself. Everything suddenly becomes exponentially more melodramatic and hokey –fathers die, not one but TWO dark secrets are revealed, etc. Ultimately it blows out in a grand finale of ska (really?? ska??) and tears and voiceovers and reconciliation. Gag.
And to think–for a while, a good hour at least, this was a solid, understated, surprisingly clever movie.