Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Fame 2009

Fame opens in Seattle on Friday, September 25th at AMC Pacific Place & the Metro.

I admit it: the Fame 2009 previews tugged my girly heartstrings a bit, so I decided I better prep for the remake with a re-watch of the original 80s sensation! The movie that inspired dancers, actors and singers! Irene Cara’s rise to popularity!!!

An hour in, I realized why I didn’t really remember it from my childhood. It’s kind of…boring. It’s also disjointed, unfocused, and large pieces of the plot appear to be missing. Fame covers 4 years at a performance high school in New York, is 2 hours and 14 minutes long, yet somehow doesn’t flesh out ANYBODY in the cast. But all of this is forgiven, of course, due to the dancing and singing.

Fame 2009 seems conscious of these failings, tries to fix them, and almost succeeds. Director Kevin Tancharoen whittled the running time down to a respectable 1 hour, 47 minutes, and Screenwriter Allison Burnett lost some of the ridiculous comedy and rearranged focus – both while keeping the look & feel of the original. The only possible mistake: taking out the popular traffic stopping/street dancing scene to “Fame” and bumping the remix to the end credits – a surprising (and bold!) decision.

The new Fame centers on Denise (Naturi Naughton): the classical pianist/wanna-be singer held back by her dad’s control, Malik (Collins Pennie): the misunderstood rapper/actor suffering from poverty, Jenny (Kay Panabaker): the naïve good girl with dreams of stardom, Marco (Asher Brook): the sensitive singer, whom I predict is going to be the breakout heartthrob of this film, Joy (Anna Maria Perex de Tagle): AKA; the one who lands her dream job while still in school, Alice (Kherington Payne): the snotty, gorgeous rich dancer with an agenda, Victor (Walter Perez): the keyboardist/composer who wants to create his own hip-hop label, Neil (Paul Iancono): the adorable token film geek, who of course, auditions with the “You talkin’ to me?” scene from Taxi Driver, and Kevin (Paul McGill): the shy ballet dancer who just doesn’t quite have what it takes to shine.

Asher Brook & Kay Pannabaker in Fame

That sounds like a lot, but this version does a pretty good job balancing everyone by providing a closer look at the core group, and at least a basic storyline for the rest. Placing well-known actors in the teacher roles was a smart move too (Kelsey Grammer, Charles S. Dutton, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwrith – and original Fame TV show star Debbie Allen), because it seems like you already know them, which makes the fact that they’re actually only on screen for a few minutes each no big deal.

And of course, there are the performances. They’re not as glossy and spectacle-laden as I was expecting (ok, maybe the “Carn-Evil” Halloween party which replaces the Rocky Horror Picture Show outing from the original counts as spectacle-ly), so it’s possible that the tween/teen audience this is aimed at might not go for it. As for the music, The “Hot Lunch Jam” dance party is almost identical to the original with a few more electric guitars and a drum pad, Denise turns out a beautifully sung version of “Out Here On My Own”, Marco woos Jenny with a very ballad-y “Is It Okay If I Call You Mine”, “Fame” is replaced by a contemporary hip-hop number, and I’m very thankful they killed “I Sing the Body Electric” in favor of a different graduation number (another decision which might hurt its popularity with die-hard original Fame fans).

So, was it a great film? Not really. Was it entertaining? I would say it’s as entertaining as the original, and it makes just a little more sense. Plus, given the amount of talent, soap-opera drama and cheesy feel-good warm fuzzies, and the good-looking cast (which I guess is supposed to explain why it’s so easy for them to buy drinks at any bar in NY- and why their teachers seem totally cool with that), I’m predicting it will be a hit with its intended audience – which makes the PG rating a smart move.

1980 vs. 2009 character cheat sheet:
Denise = Coco with money + a bit of Doris
Malik = a much more macho Leroy
Jenny = Doris + Montgomery’s absentee parents + Coco’s infamous screen test
Marco = a straight Montgomery + a sensitive Ralph
Alice = Hilary, minus the pregnancy
Victor = a hipper Bruno
Kevin = Lisa + a bit of Montgomery

Kelsey Grammer = Albert Hague (the Music teacher)
Charles S. Dutton = Jim Moody (the Drama teacher)
Bebe Neuwirth = Joanna Merlin (the Dance teacher)
Debbie Allen = pretty much the same character, but now she’s the Principal – and still in it for just over 5 minutes total.

(Joy, Neil & Megan Mullally don’t really fit any of the original characters.)