At his New Jersey high school where the Tri-State Battle of the Bands is a big deal - "Texas high-school football big" - Will's 1980s-inflected musical taste is distinctive. David Bowie is his musical god, father figure and confessor, recipient of Will's plaintively funny letters that serve as the film's narration.
Cowritten and directed by Graff (whose Camp, about a summer sleepaway for Broadway aspirants, is Bandslam's show-tune equivalent), the film follows Will as he navigates the perils of popularity and unpopularity. Will was the whipping boy at his last high school. Accustomed to taunts, he can't quite believe that he is greeted with warmth at his new school.
Nor can Charlotte, most likely to be nominated most likely to succeed, and Sa5m, least likely to be noticed by her classmates, believe they are both in Will's orbit. When Charlotte introduces herself to Sa5m, the latter rolls her eyes and sighs, "We've known each other since fifth grade."
Will the shared love of music - and of Will - make friends of the cool girl and the misfit? Or will there be a catfight over the gangly guy who has a genius for producing the sound that separates the slamming bands from the also-rans?
In a goofily endearing performance reminiscent of the young John Cusack, Connell is charming and relatable. Likewise, Kudrow, as the overprotective mother who both fears and wants more independence for her son.
Less memorable are Michalka and Hudgens as the mutually suspicious social rivals. Though both have pep - and pipes! - neither possesses the skills to bring more nuance to her two-dimensional part.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/