It’s all a bit too easy in 2009

2009-09-28 00:00

THE original Fame came out in 1980 and was a big feature of my matric year. That reveals that I am not really in the target demographic for this film, or others of its type, and comparisons are odious anyway.

The formula has remained the same: the film follows a group of kids from audition to graduation at New York’s Performing Arts High School. The school caters for dance, music and drama, so they are a varied bunch, some hugely talented, others unsure but hard-working. Who will suffer a crisis? Who will be the star?

Unfortunately, there are so many of them it’s hard to get to know them properly, although some stand out. Stiff, hardworking Jenny, battling to loosen up in acting class, but catching the eye of talented singer Marco anyway; dutiful, but bored, pianist Denise; Malik, child of a single mom, struggling in acting class and dreaming of becoming a hip-hop star; dancer Kevin, who’s apparently just not really good enough.

They are all appealing and they mature through the four years of school, which flash by with a few musical interludes. The jam in the cafeteria has been preserved, with all sorts of students joining in with dance and performance, and a few others get a song or a dance along the way.

The main revelation is Denise, whose uptight father is determined that she should become a concert pianis­t, but who harbours a secret desire to sing hip hop (revealed in a reprise of Out Here On My Own from the first film). It’s part of the formula of these films, that real success will come to those who throw off the restraint of classical training and shine in more popular formats. Of course, a hip hop singer will probably make more money, and in the film, will have more immediate appeal to the audience, but it seems a pity: focus on kids undergoing rigorous training, but celebrate those who toss it all overboard.

There’s a bit of heartache and some glib lessons, but I seem to remember more pathos in the first version. Here, one character tries to end it all, but the moment is hardly given the space it needs to achieve poignancy.

And that’s the real trouble: there are too many characters and too little real character. You can’t get to know them all, let alone care about them, and no one’s struggle seems all that difficult.

The teachers are played by a line-up of adult (TV) stars who will all be familiar (Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally, Charles S. Dutton), and the kids are unknowns, some of whom will surely become stars.

Fame is not unentertaining, but the first version had more heart. It was in a less crowded marketplace (performing arts school films have become a genre all of their own), and the reality talent show has made young wannabe stars ubiquitous in our culture, while making made success seem easy and inevitable for those with “star quality”, not the hard-won product of work and a willingness to be vulnerable.

*** Kate Hoole

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