Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is not popular at school. In fact he’s frequently picked on, for reasons we discover later. But his wishes are granted when his mother (Lisa Kudrow) gets a new job. Which means a new town (Lodi, New Jersey – not the first 70s rock reference in the script and it won’t be the last - though Creedence Clearwater Revival's song is named after the Lodi in California). And a new high school. One of the first friends he makes is Sa5m, with a silent “5” (Vanessa Hudgens). And then he hears about Bandslam, a battle-of-the-high-school-bands contest. Will is determined to put a band in shape for the contest, but what can he do with a guitarist who wants to be English, a bassist who wants to be Flea, and a drummer with a violent reputation and the hots for Will's mother?
A little reminiscent of The School of Rock, though with older kids, Bandslam is an engaging comedy-drama that sustains itself well for a somewhat elongated hour and three quarter running time. It benefits from a smart script that has a real feeling for its subject. This is a film steeped in rock music from a certain era – namely the late 60s to the early 80s. I’m a quarter-century too old and the wrong nationality to be an American high school student, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if Will’s taste for and in-depth knowledge of music recorded before he was born is credible, or whether he’s little more than the fantasy figure of a middle-aged scriptwriter. (Since I’m acquainted online with a Jefferson Airplane fan who will be twenty this month, my disbelief was suspended.) But it’s nice to see a film featuring a rock nerd who can discuss The Velvet Underground with and without John Cale, and the use of their track “Femme Fatale” (with Cale, and with Nico as well) is a nice touch.
Like many such films, Bandslam follows a course that is predictable, though not too much so – however the ending goes on a little too long to avoid becoming sappy. The film’s device of Will’s (voiceovered) emails to David Bowie is another grace note, and results in a cameo from the man himself towards the end of the film.
Bandslam is a film that is likely to fly under many people’s radars, being a teen comedy from a director with only one previous feature under his belt (Camp, which I haven’t seen). But it’s an enjoyable film all the same, all the more so for fans of 60s/70s rock like me. And you can't hate a film where the name of the band Will puts together is a Samuel Beckett reference.