Baby look at me
But not all reality shows and other celebrity factories are run by tabloid stars. So You Think You Can Dance, Project Runway, and sometimes American Idol show us talented folks doing interesting things and occasionally having dramatic moments, so it's only logical that in a world of these programs' successes and the High School Musical juggernaut that Fame would get remade.
And there in lies the remake's biggest problem. It's cotton candy fluff from a world where Adam Lambert is thought to be overflowing with sex and the Jonas Brothers are considered purity-ring wearing hunks. Asher Brook is pretty to look at, but so is a Ken doll. The male dancers were suitably built, except for the one who is not supposed to be and can't properly lift, and even he managed to fill it out before they *spoler alert* sent him back to gay exile in Iowa. But despite these attempts, the whole thing felt neutered. There was certainly no Leroy. Granted, this also means that none of the high school students look 40, but it's just as unbelievable to have a sexless world full of attractive high school students. It's a PG rated remake of an R rated movie in an NC-17 world.
The film opens with a replay of Debbie Allen's "You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying - in sweat" speech (from the TV show, but it's such a looming part of the cultural memory of the franchise, you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise) over the title lighting up the sky like a flame (Fame), but other than the inclusion of Allen as the principal and the structure (from audition to graduation, the movie is divided by Freshman through Senior year), this is the only real attempt to shamelessly capitalize on the original
I got more in me.
Still, Fame 2009 is movie certainly made by someone who loved the first go-round, even if only one song remains (besides the title track, which plays over the end credits). There's a cafeteria jam scene early on that I found thrilling, but it's still no "Hot Lunch Jam. There's a trashy casting couch scene, but it's certainly not Coco convinced to take off her top. There's a huge performance at graduation, but... There's a near suicide, but.... So there's a lot of similarities, but there's also a lot of "but...."
Beyond their voices and dancing abilities that brought them there, the kids are pretty forgettable. The face that was most familiar to me, So You Think You Can Dance's Kherington Payne plays the uptown girl with dancing chops who seems to date a downtown guy mostly to piss off her parents. Unfortunately (maybe), this plot arc happens in about two scenes. Kherington is an amazing dancer and her music video routine crawling on top of other dancers is the closest thing the movie gets to "hot"; however, her acting ability ends with her smile, so it was probably best not to give her anymore talking than they already did.
Of course, most of the adults were fantastic -- though again, you could count most of their lines on your fingers and toes. As principal, Allen speaks like the Lord on high, just like she does from the judges' table on So You Think You Can Dance. The movie avoids putting Kelsey Grammar and Bebe Neuwirth in a scene, so you're not forced have to think about them playing the couple that made them famous, but they are still basically playing the same characters. Frasier is a classical loving musical snob who has no time for improv or kids from the streets who don't care about Beethovan. Lilith is the cold bitch of a dance instructor who will break your heart and send you and your tragic shoes to consider jumping in front of a subway.
Don't you know who I am
The closest thing to an authentically moving scene comes from the other Must See TV veteran, Megan Mullally, as the vocal teacher miles away from Karen Walker, who, after taking her class out to a karaoke bar and then surprising them with her own abilities, is forced to explain that she used to pound the pavement looking for work just like they will so do did but eventually grew tired and gave it up, but she still goes to Broadway shows and thinks "I could do that." It's an obviously conversation, but Mullally nails it, and even the kids raise their game by reacting with just the right look of sympathy at her story and terror that they are heading down the same path.
Despite all of my complaints, I recommend the remake. It's as good or better than most of the similarly themed "kids in the arts" movies that have come out in the last decade. I'm sure there's an audience out there for it with kids today. Even though the title is Fame, it's stressed throughout that celebrity should not be the desired end result for these talented kids, and that they should work on honing their gifts and not their headshots and OK Magazine. That alone makes it a worthwhile venture for kids today in my book. And if it inspires them to see the original, all the better.