Fame, Kenny Tancharoen’s remake of the 1980 film about the lives of several teenagers attending a fictionalized New York City performing arts high school, cycles through its genre conventions—the anxious auditions, the ritual grind of rehearsals, the moment when the tough-love teacher cracks their first wary, “Ya-got-somethin’, kid” smile—with unapologetic energy. Tancharoen’s filmmaking ranges from the predictable (dance sequences edited within an inch of their lives) to the enjoyably attention-grabbing (a couple of sinuous, Scorseseian tracking shots through a raucous Halloween party and backstage before a concert) to the genuinely banal (nervous characters + high-stakes audition = shaky cam!). Still, Fame‘s earnest belief in the transformative power of the show-stopping solo or heartrending monologue is rather becoming, allowing us to savor the generic but still potent pleasures of watching talented young men and women come into their own as artists.
And like its gifted if excitable protagonists, Fame would have done well to stay in the classroom a bit more, rather than trolling the New York streets. (If nothing else, it would have given us more time with the school’s teachers, each played with delightful understatement by Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Bebe Neuwirth, and Megan Mullally, who also does a rocking rendition of “You Took Advantage of Me” during a class field trip to a karaoke bar.) While there is barely a second of Fame that isn’t soaked in cliché, the scenes meant to “flesh out” the characters’ home lives and relationships feel particularly perfunctory. Moldy-oldies range from the controlling father of classical-pianist-turned-rap-chanteuse Denise (Naturi Naughton) to the sketchy producer promising to back aspiring filmmaker Neil’s (Paul Iacono) dubious screenplay: “It’s The Life Aquatic meets The Bad and the Beautiful!” declares Neil, one of the funnier lines in Allison Burnett’s script.
This lack of originality proves particularly problematic for a film that squeezes the stories of a dozen or so principal characters living out four life-changing years into an hour-and-40-minute running time. After all, we haven’t yet mentioned troubled Iowan ballet dancer Kevin (Paul McGill), or the tentative romance between introverted actress Jenny (Kay Panabaker) and dreamy singer Marco (Asher Brook), or the inner demons of aspiring rapper Malik (Collins Pennie), among others. The speedy pace that enlivens the best scenes in Fame make its more hackneyed moments feel all the more shallow and rushed.
Still, Fame is a hard film to hate. Though their force and charisma as screen actors vary, the young cast possesses undeniable vigor and appeal when performing their characters’ professed talents. And in the end, it might be best to look at Fame the way a drama teacher might view a would-be actor of middling talent and boundless enthusiasm: applauding their limited charms, forgiving their obvious flaws, and moving them quickly to the door, knowing they’ll be a dozen more just like them.