With recent releases such as the Step Up films, Make It Happen, High School Musical and, dare I say it, Dance Flick, not to mention several others, dance movies are very much an in thing at the moment. Another in thing, at least in the eyes of Hollywood studio executives, is remakes. So, put the two together, and what do you get? A new version of the classic 1980 dance movie (and TV series) Fame, one that has clearly been brought up to date in order to attract the crowd that made the Step Up and High School Musical movies so popular. But will the young target audience enjoy it just as much as those films and also see it as more than just an American version of TV show Britannia High and will fans of the original 1980s film also get some appreciation out of it?
At New York City’s prestigious School of Performing Arts, students from all walks of life hone their talents and pursue their dreams. But it’s not going to be easy for this year’s batch of young hopefuls – Jenny (Kay Panabaker), Victor (Walter Perez), Denise (Naturi Naughton), Marco (Asher Book), Alice (Kherington Payne), Malik (Collins Pennie), Rosie (Kristy Flores), Kevin (Paul McGill), Neil (Paul Iacono) and Joy (Anna Maria Perez De Tagle). If they’re going to stand out from the crowd, the actors, dancers, singers and artists are going to have to overcome the some of the toughest challenges of their young lives. Under the guidance of their teachers – acting teacher Mr. Dowd (Charles S Dutton), music teacher Mr. Cranston (Kelsey Grammer), singing teacher Ms. Rowan (Megan Mullally) and dancing teacher Ms. Kraft (Bebe Neuwirth) – the precocious pupils must learn to overcome nerves, self-doubt, competition and heartbreak – all while trying to deal with the ordinary trials of high school life. And it’s going to take every ounce of talent and determination they’ve got if they’re going to walk away with the biggest prize of all – fame.
One thing that should be noted before seeing Fame is that it is not really a musical per se but rather a music drama that features musical numbers. This is basically saying that while there are indeed musical number sequences in the film they often feel like they are taking second place to the drama, and herein lies the key problem with the film. For drama to really work it requires distinct focus with characters getting plenty of character development and being involved in a range of dramatic situations. To the least observant of moviegoers it may well appear that the film satisfies these requirements as each character does indeed come from the own unique personal situations and faces trials that test their courage and determination. However, such elements are only seen so fleetingly that they barely count at all. It often feels like the filmmakers have just included the stuff because they felt they had to rather than because they really cared about the storyline. The really fatal flaw of the film is that there is too much of everything. Too many characters are present for any of them to be given adequate focus and consequently enough development and the fact that the storyline takes place over a period of four years – right through from auditions to graduation – means that the story, or what passes for story, is constantly being rushed with one scene meandering aimlessly into the next. As a result it is hard to truly care about any of the multitude of characters, a major failing for a drama. A lack of character development also means that many of the cast members are given little to work with. All of the adult actors are criminally underused with only Megan Mullally getting any significant attention but even then her comic talents, along with those of Kelsey Grammer, are not utilized. The young actors fare much better, if only because they get much more screen time, and make the most of what limited roles they have. Most are decent but unspectacular in their performances although it is at least nice to see rising star Anna Maria Perez De Tagle given the opportunity to break out of the stereotypical dumb girl roles that she has been seen playing in shows like Hannah Montana and Cake. There is one thing that the film does get right though – the musical numbers themselves. While there aren’t as many as there could with being the musical numbers are nonetheless very well executed, with great singing, great music and great choreography. For this reason the film does have some entertainment value and will likely be loved by most of its target audience. As a whole, however, Fame is a film that lacks the fun factor of High School Musical and the dramatic intensity of other dance dramas and while it is likely that both the High School Musical generation and the Fame generation will get some enjoyment of it both are certain to prefer their respective movies better. So, the film does have some value but it is ultimately rather unmemorable and, unlike its 1980 predecessor, will be completely forgotten once its fifteen minutes of fame is up.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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