Fame (2009) is a remake of the 1980 Oscar-winning musical drama by the same title, which chronicled the lives of several teenagers through a performing arts academy. The 1980 version was original and performed by a talented ensemble of dancers, singers and actors. The film migrated to television as people realised the endurance potential for a TV drama based on the lives of art students. This is where the new Fame slips up. American Idols and talent shows have taken the airwaves by storm as the world laughs, cries and applauds the coming-of-age reality show that rising stars endure in order to get recognised and signed. It's an emotional journey for all involved, whether performing, watching or judging. This is the trend that Fame capitalises on in the guise of a Fame remake.
The arc of the new Fame parallels Idols, by placing TV star personalities like Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mulally and Charles S. Dutton as judges veiled as teachers. The characters are introduced through auditions and the audience is given a glimpse into their personal lives through their compositions, dispositions and attitude towards studying. There's not much time to get to grips with each of the main characters as they all are. Each year passes every 20 minutes, so its more like a highlights package than an in-depth foray into their lives as witnessed in the documentary opera version of Idols, The Audition. As with most musical coming-of-age stories, the separate lives all build to a crescendo at a big event or graduation and Fame conforms.
The new Fame is a showcase for new talent, so Allison Burnett's primary screenwriting job was to link the performances together with some light drama instead of character development. This is an entertaining film that keeps its audience aware of the dynamics of a performing arts school, while playing a fine selection of musical and dance arrangements. The story helps to contextualise the performances, giving them more dramatic weight and meaning, however the characters seem a little vapid and thin when put under the magnifying glass. This could be attributed to their limited screen time, as there's no clear lead character as the story outlines about eight different pupils. The drama is scattershot and so is the focus with each performing art given ample time to mesmerise.
Fame is like Step Up 2. The performing arts school, the underdog, the misunderstood child, the romantic interests, the untapped talent, the light comedy, the rivalry... it's all there. The big difference is that Step Up 2 homes in on one character's story, which makes the film more engaging. Multiplying the characters, diversifying the speciality, adding some star power and upping the performance levels will improve any formulaic approach, but loses the personal touch. It's as though Kay Panabaker (Moondance Alexander) was primed as the lead, but didn't have the goods to steal the limelight with film-makers relying on Naturi Naughton (Notorious) to power the film home.
The level of performance is what raises the bar, but the new Fame probably should have cut down on characters or performing arts to truly shine. If they'd tightened the main character unit, instead of spreading the cast so thin, the film would have been more involving and compelling. Creating a film of this nature is difficult, because you've got to find all-round performers that can act, dance and sing. Trying to hide the story behind excellent performances just makes the whole show seem a little flat and superficial.
The lack of character development, predictable story line and poor summation and resolution leave Fame in the air. Highlights include: the eclectic academy cafeteria tap-dancing musical improv scene, Marco's singing voice and Denise's piano solo. While this remake features some moving dance, music and singing, it fails to capture the overall dramatic interest in each of the students personal journeys... making it an impersonal backstage pass to the arts academy and an unnecessary remake.
The bottom line: Remix.