Bandslam is fun. There, its entertaining, wittily written and for most of its running time cocks a snook at the average High School Movie. Basically its some sort of teen music nerds wet dream, where, upon moving to a new school the previously bullied Bowie nerd suddenly becomes surprisingly popular – not just with similar weirdo Sa5m* but ex-head cheerleader Charlotte. Indeed no-one in his new school seems to bully him at all, which is wish fulfilment point one. Wish fulfilment point two, hot cheerleader (who also plays guitar) wants him to advise and manage her band. He gets to be in the band without playing any instruments. Teen svengali here he comes, a teenaged Paul Morley to the Frankie of “I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On”. All he needs to do is have opinions. All energetically played by the cast, and with sharper wit than might be expected. Which should raise it above the level of Disney teen fodder, yes?
Well perhaps. Its plenty of fun, but the experience leaves a slightly disconcerting taste in the mouth. Its called Bandslam, its about teen bands and the idea of being devoted to music. But what music is it devoted to? There is only one band mentioned in the film from the last twenty years**. It is certainly not unusual for a teen music nerd to be obsessed with the music of another age (Velvet Underground, The Stooges and Bowie are the touchstones), but for the film to almost completely ignores thirty years of music is odd – there may be Wilco on the soundtrack but they aren’t knocking around as a presence in the film. Particularly odd when the two stars are Vanessa Hudgens and Aly (of & AJ). Even more odd when the original music in the film is unfortunately rather insipid. Bandslam may have the completely wrong-headed though sincere idea of being some Trojan horse of rock history for the tween set, but its not going to win them over with much of the music on display here.
In reality for all the perceived formula around High School Musical, the truth is, its got better songs. Bandslam ends with the titular battle of the bands where, for complex and not altogether convincing reason, the lead band have to think of a song to do in five minutes as they cannot perform their original song. Five minutes later, a plot point and a thoroughly inappropriate (thus REAL) howl of feedback next and the nine-piece*** burst into a ska-ed up version of “Everything I Own”. As a moment it lacks the power of a “Breaking Free” or “Get Your Head In The Game”, and in a very real way mirrors the difference between the pop of HSM and the rock of Bandslam. The music in Bandslam is correct, well measured, even cool. But its nowhere near as fun. It feels like Bandslam is made for forty year olds to like (possibly hence its pretty good critical reception). So go see it, and then listen to the Best Of HSM on the way, or an Aly and AJ album. As Miley Cyrus would say, you’ll get the best of both worlds.
(Thusly being flawed, Bandslam is a fascinating movie by the way. The poster above is the French one, which enticed my companion – and you can see what they are trying to do there. Hmm, Grlls and Gtars,)
*Not a typo. The five is silent.
**The Arcade Fire. And they are invoked to justify putting a cellist in the band.
***Our heroes management style seems to be mainly aimed at recreating My Life Story, thus all members earn no money, so as manager he can take it all himself.