Since Fame debuted 29 years ago, the world’s obsession with celebrity – and watching the pursuit of it – has exploded. American Idol is a global phenomenon, with many imitators, while the High School Musical franchise continues to obsess pre-teens everywhere. If there was ever a time for a Fame remake, this is probably it, particularly with musical movies back in vogue, and remakes being more rampant than ever…
This revamp recycles and remixes character and plot elements from the 1980 film, and pays frequent homage to the iconic scenes, but with a lighter tone and contemporary details (i.e. soundtrack, YouTube references) to make it appealing and relevant to its teen target audience.
Like the original, Fame 2009 follows a set of students at the same New York high school of performing arts from auditions to graduation.
With the new class of wannabes, it’s as if the various aspects of the previous characters were extracted – shy, overconfident, brash, troubled, etc – shaken up and poured into slightly differently shaped moulds for the modern versions, which inevitably results in two-dimensional characterization.
Jenny (Kay Panabaker) is a dedicated acting/singing student overly concerned with perfection, unlike classmates Marco (Asher Book), a well-rounded musician who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and Joy (Anna Maria Perez de Tagle), an actress with a flair for comedy. Neil (Paul Iacono) is a drama and film student who hopes to become a film director. Alice (Kherington Payne) is an aloof, coolly confident dancer, while Kevin (Paul McGill) is unsure of his ballet ability. Malik (Collins Pennie) is an actor/rapper with a chip on his shoulder who dreams of putting together a single with pianist/producer (Walter Perez) and Denise (Naturi Naughton), a talented classical pianist who hides her singing voice from her strict parents.
The youngsters’ performances are hit-and-miss and hampered by the stereotyped roles. Ostensible leading ladies Kay Panabaker (Summerland) as ing*nue Jenny and Naturi Naughton as Denise both demonstrate little character growth and emotion. Asher Book (Zoey 101), on the other hand, is one to watch out for, as is Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, who manages to both utilize and transcend her Hannah Montana experience. Thankfully, despite the variable acting ability, the singing and dancing is all spot-on.
The teachers are mainly played by television favorites who seem happy to take a backseat to the new generation, like Frasier’s Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) and Charles S. Dutton (The L Word). Debbie Allen – the only actor to star in all Fame incarnations (including the TV series) – returns as Angela Simms, the school’s principal. The presence of such familiar faces adds to the authenticity of the performing arts school environment – particularly as most of these actors’ own stars have certainly begun to fade – but the flipside of allowing their younger co-stars to outshine them means that their performances are unmemorable and indistinguishable from one another – all are supportive but tough teachers.
In addition, the challenges the characters face are clich*d and predictable, with the outcome of situations being obvious from the get-go. What do you think will happen when a naive young actress enters the trailer of a television star who promises he can help her career? Or when a budding filmmaker is offered a chance to get his film made in return for a few thousand dollars?
However, these lacklustre elements are almost redeemed by eye-catching musical sequences generously scattered throughout the film. The best of the bunch is set at a Halloween club event, where the students dress as zombie Hollywood stars and the dancers indulge in “Thriller”-esque moves. Although the dancing lacks the raw infectiousness of the original (think the street sequence to the title song), it is still engaging.
Despite Fame 2.0’s considerable flaws, it provides a diverting and fast-paced 107 minutes, whether or not you’ve seen the original. On its own, it would likely have never made it to today’s theatres, but as a follow-up it is a respectable companion piece that serves to enhance the pop-cultural value of its predecessor, rather than earn its own. It definitely offers mindless escapism and entertainment – and sometimes, that’s all you need from a movie.