Directed by: Kevin Tancharoen
Cast: Naturi Naughton, Charles S. Dutton, Kay Pennebaker, Asher Book
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins
Release Date: September 25, 2009
PLOT: At an art school in New York City, high schoolers use their talent to aim towards stardom.
WHO’S IT FOR? Members of the teen demographic, and even a bare interest in the arts beforehand helps.
EXPECTATIONS: Hopefully something has matured since the age of High School Musical. Having not seen the original Fame, I could only make such comparisons.
Naturi Naughton as Denise: She’s the hero of the movie, and her performance is a sort of audition for things far beyond this little flick. The ex-member of 3LW is given her own scene to show off the pipes (of which I could not shake off thoughts of Whitney Houston) and she is also the lead singer of the film’s title track.
Charles S. Dutton as Alvin Dowd: A stone cold Kelsey Grammar and a singing Megan Mullally also play teachers at the New York School for Performing Arts, but Dutton is the best. He fits into the position of mentor the easiest, and continues the type of homely wisdom he portrayed in Get On The Bus. Dutton carries himself as a man who loves the “thea-tre,” which makes him a great casting choice for a character consumed with sharing his passion.
Kay Panabaker as Jenny: All characters grow in Fame, but this uptight WASP does the most evolving. She sheds her uber-virginal roots and takes up edgy hobbies like having a boyfriend, while learning that high school can be fun if you take your schedule in stride. Her failing of “Boys Can Be Manipulative A**holes 101″ is the film’s weakest corner of drama, but she can’t be singularly blamed for Fame’s huge misstep.
Asher Book as Marco: His soft voice does great justice to Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me.” But just one sour singing note somewhere in his performance would’ve made this incredibly handsome and charming young gentleman a bit more plausible. If Marco is already a great singer/piano player, then why does he continue to waste his parent’s money? He must be an android. People make subtle mistakes all the time singing, but apparently Marco isn’t programmed for that.
TALKING: When not championing the arts, there’s a fair amount of drama going in Fame. But talks of failure and success are handled with a decent amount of sincerity. However, small gripe: Someone in the school uses the word “retarded.” Come on, really? Aren’t we past this?
SIGHTS: New York City is the backdrop for the film that has a lot of dancing, some of which had people in the audience I was with clapping (a practice that needs to stop, for logic’s sake). And though this is a PG film, parents should be warned that there are couple of cushy references to teen drinking. Of course the beer chugger in question is punished with spontaneous vomit, but she credits the action as “wanting to try something new.” Look out!
SOUNDS: Much of the music that is heard/performed is either hip hop or Frederic Chopin, which, when considering that the school itself is a mix of the old meeting the new, is not a bad combination. But since no one would really want to download another Chopin polonaise, the film’s soundtrack is loaded with songs actually performed by the cast. A personal favorite might be “Try,” as sung by Asher Book.
BEST SCENE: While being introduced to the characters, their auditions are cut into each other, with an actor’s audition speaking to the rhythm of a drummer’s audition, and so forth.
ENDING: Some don’t have much waiting for them after high school, and some don’t even graduate. And as the more entertaining School of Rock once said, (a quote I don’t personally believe in), “Those who can’t do – teach. And those who can’t teach – teach gym.”
QUESTIONS: How much of each character’s story was shot? Did anyone think to give the main characters a textual epilogue in the credits?
REWATCHABILITY: I will probably remember the name Fame as a mediocre experience that did not leave me as frustrated as when I left Bandslam.
Take the dancing, singing, rapping, piano playing, and filming out of Fame and you’re left with a boring movie featuring a bunch of stereotypical high school students that dance on the boundaries of confidence to ego. But movies as glittery as Fame work to some extent in that they feed the American culture’s hunger to witness new talent – something similar to “American Idol,” especially if we don’t remember the performer’s name in even a year’s time. The story is a rare example in which plot is the extra baggage in feature film that people should really want to “wow” and then examine its character arcs, etc. That being said, actually talented performers like Naughton, Book, and even Megan Mullally make this exhibition of talent sort of fun.
With its spontaneous musical number and melodrama standards, it’s acceptable to think of Fame as corny. But as much as the high school is still the product of Hollywood screenwriting, there’s no mistaking a young person’s ability to think themselves big. So these characters aren’t too fake, despite being painstakingly photogenic. And while the movie doesn’t offer these characters a whole lot of funny jokes or interesting lives, it does use them to dish out some honest talk about the real cost and value of dreams. Which is surprisingly healthy for a story about wannabe struggling artists that is simply (and incorrectly) titled Fame.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10