Cincinnati gets name-checked at the beginning of Todd Graff’s new teen-musical dramedy (I’m covering all the bases with the label, but the film is more than the label implies). Will Burton (Gaelan Connell channeling the best of Shia LaBeouf) lives in not-so-quiet isolation in the ’Nati as the geeky kid even the geeky kids avoid. Things are so bad for him that he can’t even get excited when his mother Karen (Lisa Kudrow) packs everything up and heads to New Jersey for a new start.
Getting settled lands Will in league with the cute, quirky Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) and the ambitious band-girl Charlotte (Alyson Michalka).
Sa5m is as silent as the “5” in her name, and Charlotte takes an immediate liking to Will because he proves to be the most knowledgeable guy around about music and she’s eager to pull a ragtag collection of musicians together in time to compete in the big bandslam competition for a shot at a recording contract. Although this sounds terribly High School Musical-ish, Graff cut his directing teeth on the indie film Camp, which explored the teen musical theater camp experience with a sharp eye and focus on the realities of being a creative teen outsider (Bandslam ironically arrives on the heels of the death of 1980s teen purveyor John Hughes).
The humor of Bandslam is more specific than the average teen romp, and there’s real heart and soul on display, enough to make Will and the crew heroes for more than a day. Grade: B