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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

Movie review: Bandslam ***


The late John Hughes would have liked Bandslam, an upbeat high school musical that plays like a garage-band cover of The Breakfast Club.

Todd Graff s film adds a Red Bull to the formula of a high school romantic triangle. For Bandslam is nothing if not an update of Archie, torn between Veronica and Betty, grooving to post-punk rock.

The movie stars Alyson Michalka (of pop duo Aly & AJ) as the golden girl extrovert, Charlotte, and Vanessa Hudgens (of High School Musical) as raven-haired introvert, Sa5m. (The 5 is silent.)

Both young women are drawn to Will (Gaelan Connell), new dude on the quad. Although something of a dork, he has possibilities, something that his Mom (Lisa Kudrow, reliably funny) keeps on telling him but that he doesn t quite believe.

At his New Jersey high school where the Tri-State Battle of the Bands is a big deal Texas high-school football big Will s 1980s-inflected musical taste is distinctive. David Bowie is his musical god, father figure, and confessor, recipient of Will s plaintively funny letters that serve as the film s narration.

Co-written and directed by Graff (whose Camp, about a summer sleepaway for Broadway aspirants, is Bandslam s show-tune equivalent), the film follows Will as he navigates the perils of popularity and unpopularity. Will was the whipping boy at his last high-school. Accustomed to taunts, he can t quite believe that he is greeted with warmth at his new school.

Nor can Charlotte, most likely to be nominated most likely to succeed, and Sa5m, least likely to be noticed by her classmates, believe they are both in Will s orbit. When Charlotte introduces herself to Sa5m, the latter rolls her eyes and sighs, We ve known each other since fifth grade.

Will the shared love of music and of Will make friends of the cool girl and the misfit? Or will there be a catfight over the gangly guy who has a genius for producing the sound that separates the slamming bands from the also-rans?

In a goofily endearing performance reminiscent of the young John Cusack, Connell is charming and relatable. Likewise Kudrow, as the overprotective mother who both fears and wants her son to be more independent.

Less memorable are Michalka and Hudgens as the mutually suspicious social rivals. Though both have pep and pipes! neither possesses the skills to bring more nuance to a two-dimensional part.

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