Sunday, March 21, 2010

DVD of the week: Todd Graff's BANDSLAM

TrustMovies has long been in love with the work of Todd Graff (shown just below), starting close to 30 years ago, when the then-
actor appeared on Broadway opposite Liz Callaway in the terrific (if over-pro-
duced) little musical, Baby. Graff was delightful: funny, moving, real and immensely talented. His work as an actor in films has been somehow disap-
pointing: Always good, he's not been used particularly well.

Writing and directing have put him on the movie map, however. He did the screenplay for Angie (the sweet, tart film that starred Geena Davis and gave James Gandolfini a first burst of recognition) and the unnecessary American remake of the classic Dutch Vanishing. But, ah, as writer/director he's come up with two winners: the splendid Camp, a one-of-a-kind musical based in part on Graff's own experience at a camp for budding musical theater performers, and now another musical of sorts called BANDSLAM.

Debuting theatrically last year to very-good-to-mixed reviews, the movie is just out on DVD. If you didn't catch it earlier (few did), now's your chance. Bandslam tracks a put-upon high school student from Ohio (Gaelan Connell, shown above, center) and his mom (Lisa Kudrow) who move to New Jersey to begin life anew. There he falls in with a gorgeous blond senior (Alyson Michalka, above, right) and a quiet-but-pretty brunette (Vanessa Hudgens, above left: yes, of those High School Musicals), and before long a new band is taking shape.

Graff knows kids; he knows music, movies and theater (the best of all of which he puts to use here); and he's smart enough to give us more and better than the usual high-school, kid's-stuff crap. His script is full of wit and charm, even if some of his themes (death & identity, for instance) cannot be properly developed in the film's 99-minute running time. And the band he creates is wonderful: not simply the usual electric guitars, but piano, cello, and a fab brass section, too. (I hope kids will listen and hear what real music can sound like -- and discover why this band really is the best of show.)

His cast, principals to those in small roles, delivers brightly (Kudrow, shown above, is wonderful; I'd like to have seen more of her.) Graff manages, as well, to serve up an smart finale in which the band does its best, and life still interferes. But this writer/director knows that winning isn't, after all, everything -- besides which, these days, there is always more than one way to win.

Give Bandslam a shot; it's available now on DVD from your video source of choice.  As for the things-to-look-forward-to department, the IMDB tells us that Graff's next project might be directing a remake of one of the great Broadway musicals Damn Yankees -- with Jim Carrey and Jake Gyllenhaal possibly attached, plus Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz in the writing department. 
We live in hope.


steve winters said...

this is one of the best movies i've seen in a long,long time. it musically correct ,it's funny'sexy, cute and has great appeal. it's clean and not volger. very fun movie . the music is great and i reccomend seeing it several times to really get a feel for the characters and the genius of mr.graff.great job very entertaining.steve w. reno nv

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks, Steve. I wish more people had seen this very enjoyable little movie -- and that Mr. Graff keeps making more of them. He's special!