Indie geek and Bowie freak Will Burton (Gaelen Connell) finds himself managing a high school pop outfit hoping to win the coveted Bandslam competition. They're led by former cheerleader Charlotte (Alyson Michalka) – but why has the blonde bombshell saddled herself with a gang of nerds and misfits... and why has she zeroed in on awkward outsider Will? High School Musical sweetheart Vanessa Hudgens co-stars in a melodious and emotionally ambitious corrective to the pop fripperies of Hannah Montana. This on-song tweenie drama is also blessed with a cameo from Dame David Bowie.
Vanessa Anne Hudgens
Just when you thought the soundtrack to adolescence had been corrupted into a mass merchandising opportunity a la Miley Cyrus up pops this really-rather-good tween ditty.
OK, it looks nothing new - an awkward class combo of geeks, nerds and misfits are pitched against not-very-nice lantern jawed rockers in a climactic battle of the bands.
Yet director Todd Graff - the creative quill behind the likes of Zoolander and Coyote Ugly - has taken the template and attempted to inject a little more emotional depth and gritty laughs.
Schoolroom outsider Will (Connell) thinks the days of class torment are behind him when he moves from Cincinnati to New Jersey and finds himself eyed up by high school hottie Charlotte (Michalka) and enigmatic pixie Sa5m (High School Musical's Hudgens).
Relating his exploits in a series of unanswered epistles to his hero David Bowie, Will is mystified when the vampish Charlotte co-opts him into running her kids' club and taking charge of her misfiring combo Glory Dogs.
At the same time, he finds himself drawn towards Sa5m (like the L in Ralph Fiennes, the 5 is silent), a tangle-haired swot whose indifference masks a growing attachment of her own.
There's a pleasing tendency at work here to treat kids as more than mass consumers of merchandising spin-offs - the dramatic plotlines veer off into the dark territory of guilt and bereavement but not enough to make things too miz.
Connell, a pocket Tom Hanks who you may remember from Chocolat, is a fine actor, specialising in the sort of adolescent awkwardness that Michael Cera has turned into a career.
It also buzzes to a cracking soundtrack, inevitably featuring contributions from the Dame, but also nicely judged reworkings of 70s soft-rockers Bread's Everything I Own.
All in all, a teen movie that strikes all the right chords.