Wednesday, August 26, 2009
This weekend, your bloggers took a journey to the heart of darkness -- or, more specifically, to the small New Jersey town where Jess went to high school. We were only trying to beat the heat of New York City, but it turned out to be thematically appropriate, because while in the Garden State Parkway State, we saw Bandslam, which is not only set in a New Jersey high school, but which turned out to be much like Jess's high school experience: angsty, hormonal, poorly paced, and full of ska. Oh, and kind of suckish.
A few of our commenters had let us know that a) the movie was much better than it looked; and b) it was completely mismarketed. Y'all were right on both points. The marketing failure is basically understandable, when you consider that it's starring both Vanessa Hudgens and Aly of Aly & AJ (sorry, I mean 78violet) fame; making it look sparkly and tweenie was inevitable. But that wasn't the movie's real market -- it was a teen comedy, more along the lines of 10 Things I Hate About You (albeit with a more indie feel); it's a movie meant for actual teens who are actually in high school. You can tell, because it was heavy on the How Much High School Sucks commentary.
Jess: It also had the kind of protagonist who appeals more to teens than tweens: the awkward, sensitive loner Will, played to perfection by Gaelan Connell, who probably spent the entire movie baffled by the fact that he was playing opposite Aly and La Hudge. He had the earnestness of a teenager who is totally into classic rock and convinced that he's the only one who's ever heard of, say, Led Zeppelin down pat, and he may soon start stealing roles from Michael Cera, but God, I'm so sick of whiny nice guy misfit protagonists, and the fact that the plot went seriously awry towards the end doesn't really help me to like Will. But more on that later.
Becky: Squeaky Hudgens played outsider Sa5m (the 5 is silent), and made a serious effort to be less piercing than usual. She doesn't quite pull off flat monotone, which makes her first few scenes awkward, but when the writing settled down and focused less on "look what a misanthropic outsider weirdo she is!" she did a pretty good job. But the script never quite decided what kind of outsider she actually was -- the visual cues (heavy eyeliner, black nailpolish) said goth, but the personality cues leaned much more heavily towards shy nerd. And somehow they missed the archetype that would have actually made sense, the music-obsessed indie chick, which is a shame, because if Sa5m (that causes me physical pain to type) had been more into music, it would have made the relationship between her and Will read a lot more genuine.
Jess: Aly Michalka was much more convincing as Charlotte, the oh-so-fascinating-and-unattainable rock goddess who recruits Will as her band's manager. (The plot around her character was kind of rocky, but that wasn't her fault.) Lisa Kudrow and Scott Porter were fine but unremarkable as Will's mom and Charlotte's ex-boyfriend, respectively, although Scott Porter can barely pass for a college student anymore, let alone a high school one. The rest of the cast of kooky misfits was appropriately kooky and misfitty.
Becky: Basically, this movie had all the elements it needed for a decent teen flick. The pacing was a little off and some elements never quite gelled into place -- Hudge's jealousy of Aly springs to mind -- but the first 3/4 or so were fun and watchable. Some of it was actually really sweet, some of it was really funny. But unfortunately, it went all to hell at the climax. The climax was supposed to be a double-whammy of awfulness: it's revealed that Will's been lying to everyone about his father, and also, Charlotte has betrayed everyone. And while the first part more or less works, the second... Not. At. All.
Jess: Yeah. Not to spoil you guys too much, but the "betrayal" scene basically consists of Will, our ostensible hero, screaming at Charlotte for being distant and cranky on the way to her father's funeral. At which point Becky and I realized we both hated him, and none of his mopey "poor me" posturing for the rest of the movie could get him back into our good graces.
Becky: Not to mention the fact that her "betrayal" didn't actually involve betraying anyone. The only thing she did that was in any way bad was make Will feel bad about himself, and since he was being a total asshole AND her father had just died, yeah, our sympathy was with her, not him, which wasn't what the movie wanted us to take out of that scene. And it didn't help that the entire rest of the movie was about what a super-special, awesome, all around fantastic, fabulous guy Will was. ZOMG WE GET IT. SHUT UP, MOVIE.
Jess: And then the movie wanted us to believe that Will's band went on to take the world by storm. There are several reasons to doubt this:
1. The band's name is "I Can't Go On...I'll Go On." What? No. Shut up.
2. It is fronted by Vanessa Hudgens in a macrame dress. Rawk.
3. They cover "Everything I Own," which...I'm sorry, but you cannot rock out (or shred, which Vanessa commanded them to do in the trailer but sadly not in the movie) to a Bread song. A Bread song that has been covered by *NSYNC, Boy George, and Olivia Newton-John.
4. It's a ska band! Ska! I'm sorry, I didn't realize this movie was set in 1994.
5. Spoiler but oh my God you guys this shit is ridiculous: DAVID BOWIE SEES THE BAND ON YOUTUBE AND OFFERS THEM A RECORD DEAL. THE REAL DAVID BOWIE. IN THIS MOVIE. FOR SOME REASON.
Becky: And finally, let's not forget some casual racism. Early on in the movie, Will completely dismisses a group of black students as listening to hip-hop or rap; they aren't worth his time to talk about (in fact, the only black students I can recall seeing are listening to or performing rap and hiphop). He goes on to make fun of white kids who are listening to reggae. But repeatedly in the movie, he and other characters profess their deep love of ska artists by saying, "They took reggae...and made it their own!" So: black kids enjoying music primarily performed by black people? Dismissed out of hand. White kids listening to music primarily performed by black people? Laughably stupid. But white kids listening to music primarily performed by white people while actively applauding the artists for appropriating it from black people? AWESOME. Not that it's a surprise. After all, Will is obsessed with rock generally, so I guess it's a proud tradition.
Jess: Basically, Bandslam had elements of a good movie floating around in there, but failed to tie them together, and threw a few major stumbling blocks in there for good measure. We basically wanted to go back in time, get our hands on the script, and mark it up like crazy with our red pens. Alas, that technology is not yet available. If you're a big Hudgens or Michalka fan or enjoy neurotic white guys being sad about their lives (and someone must, or Woody Allen wouldn't have a career), you could do worse than giving Bandslam a shot. But you could do a whole lot better, too.