With his shaggy mop of hair, pasty complexion, and nonexistent chin, Bandslam star Gaelan Connell actually looks like a real high-school geek: it would take more than the removal of glasses and the letting down of hair to transform this ugly duckling into a swan. His appearance helps make the teen comedy Bandslam into even more of a wish-fulfillment fantasy for pop-culture geeks: Think of it as I Was A Teenage Pitchfork Hipster. What music snob wouldn’t want to buy into the beautiful, ridiculous fiction that extensive knowledge of music history makes scrawny boy-teens irresistible to cool, sexy, musically accomplished young women?
Connell stars as an angst-ridden teen who channels his adolescent neuroses into wry letters to fantasy pen pal David Bowie. After moving to a new neighborhood and a new school, Connell improbably winds up torn between two impossible dream girls from the Disney tween-idol factory: Twizzlers-loving wild child Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Michalka, a former head cheerleader disproportionately impressed by Connell’s treasure trove of pop-culture knowledge.
Like a less oppressively hip Juno, Bandslam captures the way young people too smart and pop-culture-savvy for their own good let the music and movies they love define them during adolescence’s crucible of humiliation and self-doubt. Throughout its first two acts, Bandslam is charming, sweet, and funny enough to merit inclusion in the upper echelon of teen comedies. Then comes a third act weighed down with arbitrary romantic conflicts, leaden melodrama, and a tiresome subplot involving Connell’s ne’er-do-well father, which should have best been left on the cutting-room floor. Given Connell’s music-snob sensibilities, it seems borderline insulting that during the climactic battle-of-the-bands conflict, he’d embrace the kind of Disney Channel schmaltz that Hudgens and Michalka perform. Graff’s simultaneously under- and overachieving teen comedy begins as the kind of quirky, offbeat material Connell’s character would champion, and ends as the kind of hokey, formulaic, pandering fare he’d mock.