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All Sound Religion

Sep 10, 2009 (Updated Sep 10, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Very entertaining and a tribute to our youth.

Cons:It tries to do a lot in one package, but mostly succeeds.

The Bottom Line: A good movie for a rock 'n' roll aficionado and anyone else who can remember his high school days.

When Will Burton (Gaelan Connell) was uprooted from his doldrums at Douglas High in Cincinnati by a sudden move with his mom to Lodi, NJ, I was reminded of my precipitous graduation from U. of Cinti in 1970 when they graduated us early because of some unexpected business up at Kent State. I was so happy to be out of school, head out West! I got to make a new start, and so did Will at Martin Van Buren High School where there was excited talk about the annual inter­school band competition called Bandslam. He wasn't interested in that; he just wanted to make friends.

A girl called "Sam"­ (Vanessa Hudgens) in one of his classes gets to "buddy up" with him on a class project where they find them­selves bonding at places of shared interest à la “I saw you standing there next to me: at some hole-in-the-wall like T T's.” (Gina Arnold, Kiss This: Punk in the Present Tense; New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1997, p. 71.) A definite improvement in his social situation, but to top it off the head of last year's cheer­leader squad, a senior named Charlotte Barnes (Aly Michalka)­—“She has her own wikipedia page from last year”­—asks him to manage the new band she is forming. And management it needs despite their pretensions­—“How do you tell Pinocchio he'll never be a real boy?” His mom (Lisa Kudrow) is duly impressed with his new responsibility­—“Five minutes ago you were afraid to get on a bus and now you're managing a band”­—if not with his company­—“Girls like that are trouble; they always are.” Of course, they get into the Bandslam competition, and regardless of outcome, they'll be making a name for them­selves locally­—“Behind each style of music there is a local scene where involvement with the music and its accompanying fashions becomes an important part of the lives of the fans” (M. Elizabeth Blair, Commercialization of the Rap Youth Sub­culture, in Murray Forman & Mark Anthony Neal, editors, That's the Joint! the hip-hop studies reader, New York: Routledge, 2004; p. 498). Through­out his experiences we're informed of Will's introspections through the narrative of some of his thousands of unanswered blog messages to “Dear David Bowie.”

Ben (Scott Porter), Charlotte's ex-boyfriend, is poised for a comeback both with her and with his front runner band. Why had Charlotte left his band to involve herself with losers? But … “Ever­yone in rock music sells out eventually; it's his fate and life cycle, as well as his God-given right. It's as sure as summer follows spring. Selling out is part of the paradigm. … ¶“But that's okay. After all, everyone, even non-rock stars, sells out in the end­—giving up his or her hopes and dreams and ideals and youth for the safer and more practical virtues like family, and security, and health. This is all simply part of the life process, and rock 'n' roll is, of course, all about life. That's why rock fans kick and scream about their favorite bands ‘selling out,’ because it is an intimation of their own mortality, the very first sign that all things must pass”­—Arnold, p. xiii. Ben felt threatened by this loss of an important member of his band, and of his life, but it could be it's just a matter of Charlotte growing up a little faster than him.

“You need … the criteria necessary to judge any particular group for your­self. Remember, the Bible says ‘ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Matt. 7:16). Many musicians have been in the business so long that the evidence of their corrupt fruit is over­whelming, while others are still trying to cope with sudden success. None­the­less, both veterans and rookies exhibit the fruit of their work in the same ways­—through their lyrics, life­styles, goals, and graphics”­—Dan Peters & Steve Peters, Why Knock Rock? (Minneapolis: Bethany House Pub., 1984) p. 195. It seems to me that Charlotte is displaying better fruit helping some loser underclassmen maybe achieve something than she had been the previous year as miss popular.

Suppose she slips back into her old mode­—“She can't help it. Girls like that are hard wired.” Well, in the words of Ricky Skaggs, “All you can do is do your best / Shake off the past, forgive your­self / It's just the world we're living in / Not many saints, too many sins”­—Kentucky Thunder, Enjoy the Ride. You don't often see the pretty, popular girl of last year behaving like a saint this year. Her friends of last year wondered, the whole school wondered, and we wonder.

There is a real religious undertone in the lives of these students. Charlotte at one point acknowledges Something or Someone that is greater than her and might influence her life if she could get on his/its good side. Will and his mom acknowledge or note a seeming providential working in their lives. Charlotte especially, and Will, acknowledges a kind of moral behavior that she is trying to follow as a responsible person even though she may not have in the past­—“Leopards and cheer­leaders don't change their spots.” That's a reference to (Jer. 13:23) “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” There are enough funerals to get one thinking about life after death. And Will trying to atone somehow for the death of a student gets one thinking about an eternal judgment to come.

I am very much reminded of Benjamin Franklin's depiction of the “fundamental points of all sound religion” as he expressed it in a letter to Ezra Stiles, president of Yale University:

    Here is my creed: I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe.
    That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped.
    That the most acceptable service we render him is in doing good to
    his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be
    treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in
    this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion.

Charlotte was doing that “most acceptable service rendered in doing good to his other children.” She helped at a day care, she helped some under­class­men start their own band, and she gave Will private instruction. The movie didn't show her belonging to any sect, just being generally of a “sound religion” which the viewer may appreciate regardless his affiliation. If you define your­self as one of the 15% of Americans who claim “no religion,” you might see yourself as more religious than you thought once it's reduced to basics. If you still consider yourself an atheist, well, I've talked to atheists and they can under­stand religion, at least in its basics, so you can still appreciate the plot. If, however, you are looking for a straight hedonistic film without a breath of religion in it, then I might suggest picking another one to watch.

Will seems to have a natural talent as a manager: finding the right mix of band members, getting them to show up for practice, finding workable material. He showed a knack for making lemonade out of lemons.

If you go to enough of these movies, you may start picking up a bit of Latin. Carpe diem, seize the day, shows up here as it did in Post Grad, and especially with Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. Another variation could be Carpe nocturno if you're more of a night person. Or you could go for Horace,Ars longa, vita brevis,” “Art is long, life is short.” It all comes down to telling you to get off your duff and go do something.

I was worried that the music might be loud hard rock that would drive me from the theater, but I found it enjoyable to listen to­—music to “soothe the savage beasts.” In fact I found "Band­slam" a much better movie than I expected or that it had any right to be considering its target audience and that I'm a bit older than that. I heartily recommend it unless you are looking for a narrow musical experience and this isn't it.

Recommend this product? Yes

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