Review: Fame

fame one sheet

In case you never saw the original, Fame follows student’s journeys through the New York Academy of Performing Arts. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Try telling a dozen stories, all simultaneously, in 107 minutes and see how successful you are. In my opinion, Fame suffers greatly from trying to put in too much story into too few minutes.
Now, I’m not your average all-American guy, mind you. Actually, my preference is for a good musical over a good football game, any day of the week. Don’t get me wrong, I love action flicks as much as the next guy, but there is something magical and breathtaking about watching a great dancer, or listening to an extraordinary vocalist or practiced musician. Performing artists can lift my spirit higher than any quarterback throwing a completed pass ever could.
HOWEVER, this 2009 remake of of the 1980 film, Fame, let me down. Yes, there were awe-inspiring vocal artists in the film. Yes, there were musicians showing unbelievable talent. Yes, there were dancers on screen performing moves and choreography that made my jaw drop. If that is ALL you want out of the movie, then go buy it on DVD right now, as you will love it.
For me, I wanted a good story that moved between, and intertwined, the remarkable performance scenes. Unfortunately, there were simply too many storyline dynamics going on, to show-off any of them effectively. Relationships between students, between parents and students, between instructors and students, and so on… you can probably tell that this was a storytelling nightmare to cram all into one film. Attempting to bring depth to the story, some wonderful actors were tapped to play the school’s staff members, including Debbie Allen (who was also in the original Fame), Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), Charles S. Dutton (Legion), Bebe Neuwirth (The Big Bounce), and Megan Mullally (Will & Grace).

In the same genre, High School Musical managed to more successfully focus on a few key characters and then of course had sequels affording expansion. Fame could probably have been well split into two or three films and thereby given themselves more time to give we viewers more probability of being engaged fully in each of the multiple simultaneous stories. Characters barely had time to develop, and their connections to one another were hard to believe. Cooking a five-course meal takes time in order to get all of the flavors to combine for greatness. Telling a great story is much the same. Fame had all of the right ingredients for greatness, but did not have time to slow-simmer to attain any significance.
Lastly, I’ll say that if you are going to make a film with multiple stories being told on top of one another, then at least one or two of those stories should be somewhat unpredictable. After meeting most all of the characters in Fame, I believe the viewer can extrapolate how each and every one of their individual stories will go. A couple of twists and turns would have helped, but likely not cured the ails of Fame. Please let me restate that the artists in this movie were wonderful to watch and hear. Their performances almost had me liking the film… almost.
Thanks to guest film critic Steve Oatney for this review!

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