Over the weekend, Contrapuntist and I went to go see the newly released movie, Fame. Having already seen the 1980 version, I can’t help but compare the two. Both movies follow a group of dancers, singers, actors, and artists through their four years of study at the New York High School of Performing Arts. The students hone their artistic talents while coping with the drama of their personal lives. However, the new PG-13 movie has been watered down from the original’s R-rating to appeal to the High School Musical crowd.
Most of the 2009 movie’s problems stem from its running time of 107 minutes. We are rushed through the characters’ four years in the high school. Some of the characters appeared so briefly that I had a hard time remembering who they were. The 1980 film, at 134 minutes, feels downright leisurely in comparison.
One of the biggest differences between the two movies is the roundness of the characters. Both movies begin with stereotypical students. The 1980 characters get the chance to break out of their shells, while the 2009 characters do very little in the way of the unexpected. This is best encapsulated by similar scenes in the two movies involving a dance student who gets some bad news. In the original movie, instructor Miss Berg (Joanna Merlin) drops freshman Lisa Monroe (Laura Dean) from the dance program. After hearing the bad news, Lisa goes to the subway station. Some of her classmates are also there, but they initially pay little attention to her. The subway races around the corner, and it looks like Lisa is going to commit suicide by jumping in front of the train. Her classmates run to save her, and then the subway blocks the camera’s view. When the train passes, we see that instead of jumping, Lisa has dropped her bags of clothing on the tracks. She shouts, “F—- it, if I can’t dance, I’ll change to the drama department.” In the 2009 movie, senior Kevin Barrett (Paul McGill) goes to the subway station after Ms. Kraft (Bebe Neuwirth) tells him that he does not have enough talent to become a professional dancer and refuses to write him a recommendation. As in the 1980 version, Kevin goes to the subway and contemplates suicide in front of his initially oblivious classmates. They finally notice him leaning over the tracks when the subway approaches. The train blocks the camera’s view, and when it passes, Kevin’s classmates are holding and comforting him. I waited for him to jump up and announce, “Just kidding,” or something to that effect, but that never happened.
Another difference between the two movies is the severity of the problems in the students’ personal lives. The 1980 students go through some pretty serious R-rated issues. Drama student Ralph Garcy’s (Barry Miller) young sister is attacked by a junkie. Drama, music, and dance student Coco Hernandez (Irene Cara) goes for a screen test to the apartment of a man who claims to be a director. He manipulates her into undressing in front of the camera and sucking her thumb like a baby. Dance student Leroy Johnson clashes with English teacher Mrs. Sherwood (Anne Meara). He refuses to do homework because he is too ashamed to admit he is illiterate. The 2009 students work through comparatively innocuous PG-13 problems. Shy drama student Jenny Garrison (Kay Panabaker) goes to the trailer of a Performing Arts High acting alum for what she thinks is going to be a screen test. The guy convinces her into doing a heavy makeout scene in front of the camera. She comes to her senses and leaves, but when she tells her boyfriend, Marco (Asher Book), he breaks up with her. Meanwhile, Marco has to deal with the very difficult problem of being handsome and talented. The only 2009 student who deals with a problem comparable to that of the 1980 students is Neil Baczynsky (Paul Iacono). Neil talks his father into giving him $5000 so he can work with a man who he thinks will help him produce his movie. Predictably, the “movie producer” has disappeared with the $5000 by the next time Neil visits his office.
There are a couple of bright spots in the 2009 movie. Actress Naturi Naughton who plays piano student Denise Dupree has a fantastic singing voice. Dancer Kherington Payne, who plays dance student Alice Ellerton, shows some incredible moves in the dance numbers.
I would highly recommend this movie for fans of High School Musical who are too young to see the original version. For anyone who is 17 years or older, don’t bother seeing the 2009 Fame. Grab a copy of the 1980 version, and you’ll be much more satisfied.
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- Fame: the new version won’t live forever (telegraph.co.uk)
- ‘Fame’ Theatrical Trailer on Yahoo! Video (movieblips.dailyradar.com)
- Movie Review: Fame ( ** ) (inquisitr.com)