Monday, August 17, 2009

"Bandslam": Music movie worth seeing

I just got back from watching the new film "Bandslam" and have to say it's one of the best things I've seen this year. Directed by Todd Graff ("Camp") and starring Lisa Kudrow (TV's "Friends"), Vanessa Hudgens ("High School Musical"), Aly Michalka (Aly & AJ, Disney Channel's "Phil of the Future"), it has a charm and true to-life sensibility that's rare in teen-centric flicks these days.

Kudrow portrays a single mom raising her teenage son (played by the excellent Gaelan Connell - a relative newcomer who had bit parts in "Chocolat" and "A Dirty Shame"). Connell's character is key to the film: a misfit type who has an encyclopedic knowledge of "cool" rock music and doesn't fit in at high school. After a move to Jersey, he suddenly finds himself managing a student-led rock band.

Filled with smart dialogue that doesn't pander (no vulgarity) and music references (Connell's character makes a trip to the shuttered CBGBs club in NYC and frequently posts to the website of idol David Bowie), "Bandslam" was partially filmed in Austin (including scenes shot at South by Southwest!). There is also an amazing soundtrack (Nico, Wilco, Bowie and much more). DJ Junkie XL did some incidental music and a major singer makes a cameo.

I'd call it a cross between "School of Rock" and "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist," with elements of '80s John Hughes movies.

Michalka does a fine job as the cheerleader/singer, Hudgens is surprisingly good as the low-key bookworm and Kudrow prompts a few laughs as a quirky, yet believable parent. It's Connell who shines here though, making you identify with his predicaments. He's definitely one to watch.

Shamefully, "Bandslam" debuted at #13 at the national box office over the weekend, making a paltry $2.2 million in wide release. Don't let this one be deemed a flop. Go see it now!

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