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dir Todd Graff
scr Josh A Cagan, Todd Graff
prd Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Ron Schmidt, Marisa Yeres
with Gaelan Connell, Alyson Michalka, Vanessa Hudgens, Lisa Kudrow, Scott Porter, Ryan Donowho, Charlie Saxton, Tim Jo, Elvy Yost, Lisa Chung, Casey Williams, David Bowie
release UK 12.Aug.09, US 14.Aug.09
09/US Summit 1h52
Cute kids: Connell and Michalka
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
With its squeaky-clean characters and simplistic plotting, this film is clearly targeting the High School Musical audience. It even has the same lead actress. And it's just bright and sunny enough to work.
Will (Connell) is a nerdy music obsessive who is thrilled when his mother (Kudrow) announces that they're moving from Cincinnati to New Jersey. He plans to reinvent himself at his new high school, and quickly gets caught up in the upcoming BandSlam competition, helping hot girl Charlotte (Michalka) turn her talented but scruffy bandmates (Saxton and Jo) into a first-rate band with the addition of a few more members (including Donowho, Yost and Chung). Meanwhile, Will is falling for his moody study partner Sa5m (Hudgens). The 5 is silent.
The formula dictates the plot, as we know things will fall apart before they come together in the end. And where this film surprises us is in the way it approaches teen life with a blast of intelligence. The characters are recognisably complex, with some pretty serious issues in their lives and relationships that feel relatively organic and real. And the conflicts feel vaguely authentic as well, even though we know the smiles will be back before too long.
These teens are all overachievers with a lot of talent, and it's clear that the same can be said about the cast, although the rampant overacting may grate on older audience members. It's mainly Michalka's show; Charlotte is by far the most interesting, magnetic character. But everyone else gets a chance to cut loose as well, including Porter as Charlotte's cool-kid ex. Meanwhile, Kudrow adds class, and some fine comic timing, to the whole thing.
Of course, this is a Disneyfied fantasy version of high school, where everyone is virginal and straight, and even the geeks are cute. And this blanding-down makes the whole thing feel less like a proper film than a pilot for a TV series that combines harmless adolescence with an introduction to rock history. But the music is terrific, and director-cowriter Graff resists the temptation to indulge in the usual hackneyed moralising. He also stirs in some terrific moments along the way that subvert the genre just a little bit.
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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