With the recent popularity of High School Musical and TV programs such as American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and Glee, it comes as no surprise that Hollywood would attempt to revitalize Fame. The 1980 original is an Oscar-winning classic that birthed a franchise: a popular TV show, hit singles, albums, a tour, a musical, and other forms of merchandising. Unfortunately, the film itself has aged poorly over the last three decades.
This reinvention gives Fame a modern makeover for a new generation and a chance to reboot the franchise. (Not to mention making it more family-friendly—the original was rated R, this is PG). The culture has changed significantly in 30 years. Gone are the cheesy synthesizers, leg warmers, post-disco pop music, and '70s racial tensions. Cue up the DJs, rappers, karaoke bars, multi-cultural arts, student diversity, and the Internet.
Even the nature of becoming famous has changed with the times. Through today's technology—computers, cell phones, Facebook, YouTube—a would-be starlet doesn't have to work hard to gain their 15 minutes of fame. But then stardom and notoriety are hardly the same things. As Debbie Allen used to say on the TV show, "Fame costs, and right here is where you start paying … in sweat." If only the movie explored this idea more fully.
Like the original, Fame loosely follows a talented group of young artists—singers, dancers, actors, filmmakers—as they diligently study their craft under tough-but-sympathetic instructors at the New York City High School of Performing Arts over the course of four years. It's a bit like a documentary told in four acts, bouncing between the various students and their experiences as they grow from nervous candidates at the auditions and insecure freshmen to confident upperclassmen and professionals.
Here we come to the chief problem: How do you follow the lives of ten students over four years in two hours time with any depth? Well, the first film really didn't, and neither does this one. Fame relies on archetypes in a series of vignettes to make a broader point about our culture, rather than deep investment in a roster of characters. This might explain why the TV show had a successful run—we could become acquainted with the soap opera roster and watch them grow over time. Yet despite the lack of deep characters, the original movie still managed to connect with genuine heart and emotion, collectively relating the anxiety of the young struggling artist to the audience.
This new Fame, however, leans too heavily on the clichés with generic characterizations that are never adequately explained. Jenny (Kay Panabaker) has the most screen time, but she's out of place. Her auditions are so uptight, it's a mystery how she made the final cut of 200 out of 10,000 applicants. And though Jenny's specialty is acting, we never truly see her shine. We only see her flounder with insecurity as an actress and singer in class. Her story arc is more concerned with gaining confidence (again, never explained) and fostering friendships outside the classes, primarily the romance she kindles with singer Marco (Asher Book).