DVD Review: Bandslam (2009)

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Let's face it, writing “Dear David Bowie,” is much cooler than writing “Dear Diary,” and the difference can't be overstated enough especially if you're a guy whose best friend is his hip mother (Lisa Kudrow) and whose expectations out of life are so low that moving from Ohio to New Jersey is the equivalent of being Bowie's sideman.

In filmmaker Todd Graff's underrated Camp follow-up, Bandslam, Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) assumes that the best thing about being the mysterious new boy in high school will be that nobody will realize just how bullied he was back in Cincinnati but he's in for a far greater surprise when the school's most beautiful and popular senior, Charlotte (Aly Michalka) plucks him out of underclassman obscurity and asks him to manage her rock band.

Impressed by his encyclopedic knowledge of rock music and High Fidelity envy taste, Charlotte's mission to destroy her ex-boyfriend and former band Glory Dogs at Bandslam grows into something more than rhythmic revenge when Will's guidance inspires the group to ditch their Springsteen cover band sounding name and leave the Cheap Trick covers to the wannabes.

Inspired by his passion for music and first real friendship, Will becomes so obsessed that he starts missing out on regular high school rites of passage such as finding his first girlfriend in the form of the lovely but shy former stutterer who has dubbed herself Sa5m wherein the five is as silent as actress Vanessa Hudgeons often is, typically onscreen with her nose buried in a book.

Working with Will on an introductory group project where they present one another to the class, Sa5m has to come to terms with Will's forgetfulness and devotion to the girl who used to be her babysitter, running hot and cold on her from a flirtatious teenager to a guy who nods his head but is really wondering how David Bowie would master a certain musical effect.

A winning film with far more heart than we normally see in teenage cinema, complete with a few emotional surprises that truly pack a wallop, this winner of the Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award that earned a great deal of respect from the critics before it was released into obscurity in the blockbuster dog days of summer is the type of movie you'll want to shout from the rooftops about.

One of the smartest films for its audience since Juno, Bandslam is twice the movie that its musical high school rival remake Fame was hoping to become.

And while the tendency is there to compare this feature to Hudgeons beloved grade school through tween hit trilogy High School Musical or even School of Rock given its model as a word-of-mouth hit this movie will hopefully emulate, Bandslam is in a class by itself for making the music only part of the glue that holds these kids together in tandem with real feelings which for a guy is often as rare to witness onscreen as writing your innermost secrets to David Bowie.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.