Directed By Kevin Tancharoen
Starring Kay Panabaker, Asher Brook, Kherington Payne and Walter Perez
With the musical genre newly-popular thanks to Glee and High School Musical, it was just a matter of time before Hollywood dipped into the ’80s retread pile and remade Alan Parker’s 1980 cult classic Fame. While the 1980 musical focused on a group of working class kids struggling through R-rated issues to make it at New York City High School for the Performing Arts, the 2009 remake is a glossy, tame, tween-friendly alternative, charting the success of improbably attractive teens, teaching us that it’s oh-so tough being a privileged kid with an abundance of looks and talent.
As an ensemble movie it’s a cobbled-together series of underdeveloped stories; Fame focuses prominently on several individuals and cliques, but flits between them all so quickly that none are fleshed out with more than the broadest, most patchy, inconsistant brushstrokes, feeling more like a montage of scenes from an upcoming CW teen drama than a complete, coherant film. Characters are awkwardly shoe-horned into the plot only to vanish (a supporting character exists only for a scene that hamfistedly tries to raise the issue of eating disorders and image prejudice, then is never seen or mentioned again), and we’re subjected to a handful of half-told dramas without a single three-dimensional role or a satisfying story arc.
What little plot there is to find has been lazily copied-and-pasted from the synopses of any number of ‘naive kid trying to make it in the big city’ movies, with no less than two different plotlines using the well-worn ‘gullible teen exploited by smarmy conmen promising fame and fortune’ angle – caricatures telegraphed with such subtlety that they might as well be selling magic beans from a grimy overcoat in a Dickensian alleyway, yet characters are still roped in, since they’re undoubtedly retarded. “You mean the slimy Hollywood guy inviting me – a young, beautiful girl – back to his trailer didn’t just want to help me succeed in the industry?!” Well, duh.
We also get a rehash of the urban Romeo & Juliet story, with faux-tough guy New Yorker Victor (Walter Perez) romancing privileged silver-spoon dancer Alice (Kherington Payne) despite her disapproving parents. Only we don’t even get to see said romance develop – they meet, suddenly they’re together and meeting Alice’s parents, then they disappear for an hour of the runtime. It’s this ‘Fill in the blanks yourself, audience, we don’t have the energy to write it!’ lazy storytelling that sabotages every strand of story, robbing every character of an arc of growth and resolution. The cutesy teen soap romance of Jenny (Kay Panabaker) and Marco (Polo!) fares the best, but still suffers from the aforementioned problems, unhelped by the blandness of actor Asher Brook – a performance so boring I suspect he might be a wax mannequin controlled by an elaborate pulley system.
Compounding the character problems is the baffling pace and puzzling sense of time; while the film spans the bland kids’ entire four-year career at performing arts school, it’s hard not to feel confused when title cards appear informing us that it’s now ‘Year Two’, since there’s so sense of natural progression at all – characters still act like they met a couple of day ago, and the audience doesn’t feel like we’ve met them to begin with, since only 15 minutes or so has passed.
Most damningly, there’s simply no memorable dance sequences or stand-out song performance. It’s easier to forgive a musical its lack of character if it can engage on a musical level or offer up a stunningly choreographed dance number or two. Even The Hannah Montana Movie had the painfully infectious and inescapably fun Hoedown Throwdown and ‘Let’s steal it for our generic X-Factor finalist!’ feel-good ballad The Climb to mask the cookie-cutter plot with energetic music. Fame isn’t afforded the same luxury, and the result is a character drama without character and a musical without music.
The Blu-ray offers up a flawless video transfer and a lively audio track, capturing the colourful stylistic cinematography well, while the music, dialogue and background hustle-and-bustle of the performing arts school all sound as clear and energetic as possible considering the content, so while the film itself is a mess, at least it’s an attractively presented one in HD. The set also carries both the theatrical and extended version (which despite the added runtime, suffers all the same pacing and story issues), a digital copy of film on an included DVD, as well as the following special features:
The deleted scenes, while adding tiny character moments, still would do nothing to bandage the character issues crippling the film, while the fluffy featurettes don’t offer much entertainment or insight. For fans of the film, it’s a nice set, but even the most forgiving teen movie fans might find it a chore to suffer through the film itself.
Fame is available on Blu-ray and DVD now.