photo: Kyle Dean Reinford

by Rick Grant
Grade: B / Rated PG / 111
Today, every teenager in America dreams of being a rock star. It’s a right of passage to start a band in the garage. Millions of ear bleeding rockers of varying degrees of talent unleash their style of rock onto the high school dances, private parties, and enter the various battle of the bands contests.
In this coming of age scenario, a young nerdy high school student, Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) moves from boring Cleveland with his mom, Karen Burton (Lisa Kudrow) to a New Jersey high school caught up in the yearly Bandslam. This is the biggest thing that happens in this high school. The winner of the competition receives 10 grand toward their college education.
Shot by writer director Todd Graff, the screenplay panders to the rock’n’roll fantasies of mid-teen kids who find out that it’s a jungle out there in the music biz and only a few groups make it to the top. However, the premise foR Graff’s script is character driven involving a young teenager experiencing his first romance and be part of a big event for the first time.
For a boy who never had a girlfriend, Will meets two pretty girls almost simultaneously. The first girl, Sa5m (Vanessa Hudgens) likes him because he’s different from the other macho boys always hitting on her. They volunteer to do a school project together.
The other girl in Will’s life is Charlotte Banks (Aly Michalka) the beauty queen of the high school who was a cheerleader. She is now into music and writing songs. Will impresses her with his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of rock’n’roll. His dad was a sideman playing keyboards with big time 1980s bands such as The Who.
Charlotte likes Will for the same reason as Sa5m, who warns Will that she is trouble. Will gets involved with Charlotte’s band and makes suggestions to improve it. The group institutes Will ideas and they ask him to manage the group. This puts Will in direct contact with Charlotte. Of course, Will doesn’t even dream he has a chance with her, but he likes her spunk.
Yes, the script is reminiscent of a dozen other rock fantasy movies, but the young actors are multitalented musicians and actors, making the picture palatable for adults. Gaelan Connell is adorable as Will, who, over the course of the story, finally experiences his first kiss. He even has two girls fighting over him, a position he never dreamed he would be in.
Of course, the film is formulaic and predictable but sweet and uplifting. I enjoyed seeing these talent young people, some of whom had been in High School Musical, get major exposure. Vanessa Hudgens as Sa5m comes out of her shell for the big concert and shows amazing talent. Ali Michalka shines in her scenes as the beauty queen turned serious musician. The other members of the supporting cast meld well as an ensemble.
The climax is the Bandslam event featuring many great bands competing. The level of musicianship is on a high professional standard, which is a bit unrealistic, but what the heck, a young viewer can dream of getting that good on stage.
Like a journal, Will writes to his idol, David Bowie but never gets a response. Bowie is like his imaginary mentor. This sets up some interesting happenings toward the end of the film.
For a PG rated film of this genre, it turned out to be entertaining and fun even for a geezer like me. Ah youth!