Mark Reviews Movies

FAME (2009)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Kevin Tancharoen

Cast: Naturi Naughton, Kay Panabaker, Asher Book, Paul McGill, Walter Perez, Collins Pennie, Paul Iacono, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, Kherington Payne, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S. Dutton, Debbie Allen

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language)

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 9/25/09


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Review by Mark Dujsik

There are two ways to read the remake of Fame, and, for one of them, I'm really stretching. Let's start, then, with the obvious one.

Fame tells the story of a group of students as they make their way through four years at a prestigious, exclusive performing arts high school (known lovingly as the PA) in New York City.

It's their trials and tribulations (but mostly trials) as they try to balance a full workload of arts classes and basic academics (but mostly arts) and realize that success in the arts isn't necessarily found in becoming famous (but it's certainly what they all ultimately want).

We meet a motley crew of young artists, from singers to dancers to pianists to actors and even an aspiring film director and a music producer (not "performance" arts, but the movie doesn't nitpick). They all have hopes and dreams, realize it's hard work, hit the skids, and come out all right in the end. That they all experience each of these stages at the same time must be some kind of weird cosmic joke on them.

Allison Burnett's script is so neatly compressed into its four acts (four high school years), it doesn't allow for the characters' individual growth, instead viewing each of their singular experiences as a part of the collective. There's no time taken for their individual progress, so we don't care about these kids as individuals. And isn't that what fundamentally separates artists? Burnett knows that; he has a few of his teacher characters say it flat out a few times.

So while the movie might get some of the concepts of the performance lifestyle experience right, it's false in the presentation of that experience.

Act one (freshman year) is about aspirations. Denise (Naturi Naughton) is a gifted classical pianist. Jenny (Kay Panabaker) is serious about wanting to be an actress. Marco (Asher Book) sings but is in the acting clique. Alice (Kherington Payne) is a dancer. Victor (Walter Perez) plays piano and composes. Kevin (Paul McGill) wants to be a ballet dancer. Malik (Collins Pennie) wants to be a famous actor.

There are others, of course, but they get thrown to the sidelines very quickly. In fact, all the characters get thrown to the sidelines pretty quickly once the narrative structure takes over their development. That doesn't mean they don't all get together in the cafeteria and do an improvisational jam session. Even lunch is a forced chance to perform for these kids.

Act two (sophomore year) is about challenges. Victor doesn't get Bach. Denise wants to sing, but her father wants her to be a classical pianist. Jenny is too uptight, but maybe Marco can show her how to loosen up. Malik can't express his emotions, and his mom doesn't like him going to a school for acting.

Act three (junior year) is about disillusionment. Denise secretly sings, but the music producer only wants to sign her and not Victor, who helped write a song. Jenny gets tricked onto the casting couch of a PA graduate, breaking poor Marco's heart. The nerdy director kid (Paul Iacono) gets gypped out of $5,000 by a shady "movie producer."

This all moves in very straightforward, very safe, very predictable, and ultimately non-involving fashion. The movie is competently directed by Kevin Tancharoen, who keeps the camera far enough that we can see the talent on display and lets the editing play along with it (Although the slow-motion dancing scenes are wrong, as dancing is the art of the movement of the body through space and timeómess with one, it's all off).

It all comes down to act four (senior year), where lessons are learned. Jenny ties it all up with a monologue at the end that tells us exactly what we're supposed to believe these kids have realized, and of course, even their graduation ceremony is a performance (Those poor kids in the orchestra probably have stories, too, you know).

The other, more involving but unintended, way to reflect upon Fame is with a meta reading. Here are a bunch of young actors with dreams of making it big cast as a bunch of young performers with dreams of making it big.

They're taught to look for success in the performing arts outside of making it big by characters played by Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally (who has a really nice moment in which her character tells why she doesn't perform anymore), Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S. Dutton, and Debbie Allen, actors who aren't huge movie stars but are quite successful in their own rights on TV, film, and stage.

It's a reach, I know, and it doesn't say anything to expound upon the movie as it is. It's just something that helps me find some merit in this pedestrian tale.

Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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