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Review

‘Fame’ remake breaks a leg

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October 1, 2009

If Bob Fosse were to mate with a carnival—and I mean the whole damn thing—and the resulting bastard offspring were to be abandoned to grow up on the streets, it would grow up to be “Fame.” All the sights, sounds, colors and movement are there, but its lack of discipline and predilection towards attitude over intelligence means that the whole package is woefully less than the sum of its parts.

Based on the runaway hit 1980 film of the same name—which, on its own merit, spawned two musical adaptations and a six-season TV show—“Fame” centers around New York’s highly prestigious High School of Performing Arts and the academic careers of one of its graduating classes. The film opens on audition day with a montage introducing the principle characters, their talents bolstered against a sea of under-talented hopefuls that all seem destined to star on the American Idol blooper reel one day.

What follows can be best described as the next High School Musical – a structureless, virtually plotless tilt-awhirl aimed at overloading the senses to the point of confusion. It is only then, when the synthesized back beats have our ears ringing and the frenetic dance-offs have our heads spinning, that this sanitized and waterdowned remake begins to hold its form.

The first, and perhaps most devastating, error is that far too many characters are introduced to keep track of, and even the few that director Kevin Tancharoen zooms in on are so poorly underdeveloped that it’s impossible to share in their desperate dreams and fears. One aspiring actor storms out of class after the professor tells him there was no emotion in his monologue recounting the murder of his baby sister; another attempts suicide on the subway platform after being told he’s not good enough to become a professional ballet dancer; so many others are framed as suffocating under the unbearable weight of their parents’ expectations and projected visions of successful futures. Each one of these stories could ground the audience in some sense of emotional connection, yet each and every tidbit of actual storytelling is tied to a string; every time I felt invited to come a little closer, the story is yanked further out of reach.

“Fame” seems content flirting with its adult themes, but never gives in to them. Bad things happen to these kids, and we should feel sorry for them, but every time some shit hits the fan, a contrived and manipulated deus ex machina is conveniently dropped into their laps, simultaneously fixing their problem and depriving them of any sort of life lesson. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. “Fame” does teach some lessons, to be sure, but those lessons are that all of your problems will magically be fixed for you (usually through breaking out in dance) and that high school, further learning and academics in general are pointless for artists, as long as they can find a job worthy of dropping out for.

As I left the theater, I felt cheated. I, along with the American populace, have been lied to. “Fame” isn’t a film; it’s not even a movie (yes, there is a difference)—it’s an overblown performing arts piece disguised by its gritty, documentary-style filmmaking. The talented ensemble does their best highlighting some fantastic singing and incredible dancing, but go into this expecting nothing more than a cheesy high school production that plays out like a TV pilot, not a self-sufficient motion picture.

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.