Bandslam: Criminally Underrated after 10 Years

Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelan Connell, and Aly Michalka in Bandslam. Courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

The music is still good in this flick but Bandslam remains criminally underrated after the film opened in theaters ten years ago.

Bandslam is about a battle of the bands competition.  It’s “Texas High School football big” as Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) says.  The winning band gets a recording contract so its pretty big to say the least.

Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) is starting off at a new school because his mom, Karen (Lisa Kudrow), recently got a new job.  He’s obsessed with music and writes emails to David Bowie every day.  The singer never bothers to respond to Will’s emails.  After meeting Sa5m during lunch, Will later meets Charlotte Barnes (Aly Michalka).  Before we know it, Charlotte invites Will to manage her band, which is eventually renamed as I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On.  The other band members at the time include Bug (Charlie Saxton) and Omar (Tim Jo).  Will, upon listening to a rehearsal, starts getting some ideas like expanding the band.

While Will and Charlotte continue hanging out, love is in the air between Human Studies classmates Will and Sa5m.  Will certainly makes some mistakes along the way, including hanging out at a concert when he said he would meet Sa5m at the movies.  Falling out with Sa5m isn’t the worst thing to happen with Will.  Charlotte’s ex, Ben (Scott Porter), just happens to dig up dirt on Will after an attempt to get back together with Charlotte.  Nobody said romance would be easy.  Am I right?

Just before their performance, they discover that Ben and his band, Glory Dogs, play their song.  Charlotte didn’t have any clue that this would be happening.  She had already quit the band following her father’s sudden passing.  Will–after seeing a performance of Sa5m playing “Everything I Own”–ends up getting Sa5m to replace her in the band.  It’s smart thinking anyway and they later resort to the same song in their Bandslam performance.  While they don’t win, they still end up winners because David Bowie wants to sign them to his new indie music label.

Behind the camera, Todd Graff has a full grasp of what he wants to do with the film.  The songs work especially when they’re being shot like music videos.  The closing finale especially benefits from the energy of the crowd in Austin.  Gaelan Connell is perfectly capable in the leading role with, sharing chemistry with both Hudgens and Michalka.  That being said, he hasn’t appeared in anything since 2013.  Moreover, the film works with or without David Bowie.  His cameo at the end of the film is more touching over the years.  Nobody could have ever predicted at the time that Bandslam would mark is final on-screen appearance.

It’s not unfair to say that Bandslam was marketed terribly by Summit Entertainment ten years ago.  It wasn’t the first time that a film was done wrong by its studio.  Nor will it be the last.  All we can do is except that it happened and move on.  But here’s the thing.  Because the film was marketed terribly, it didn’t get to reach its full potential.  If you went into the film based on the trailers, you would naturally assume that it’s in the High School Musical territory.  Vanessa Hudgens was coming off of the High School Musical trilogy so nobody could blame the studio for that.  The thing is–they couldn’t have marketed this film in a worse way.  The two films couldn’t be more different!

Ten years later, Bandslam remains under-appreciated but here’s to hoping this gets rectified with the film’s anniversary.

DIRECTOR:  Todd Graff
SCREENWRITERS:  Josh A. Cagan and Todd Graff
CAST:  Aly Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Gaelan Connell, Scott Porter, and Lisa Kudrow

Summit Entertainment opened Bandslam in theaters on August 14, 2009. The film is available on DVD and Digital. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.