Photo Credit: MGM
It’s always hard for a musical to explain why its characters burst into song and dance in the middle of an otherwise normal everyday life. Most don’t even try. Fame, the remake of the 1980 movie musical, has the perfect excuse: It takes place at a performing arts school in New York. Of course they’re singing—no suspension of disbelief required.
The one spontaneous number feels like an entirely plausible jam session, and rarely does anyone sing outside the context of a scripted performance. Like the original, Fame follows a group of students from innocent freshmen to brink-of-life seniors, as each learns the joys and perils of pursuing success. The drama—a romantic betrayal here, a failed audition there—is tame to match the PG rating. (Unlike the R-rated original, there’s no abortion story line.) The few nods to adult fare, like suicide or sex, are subtle enough to fly over the heads of the High School Musical set: When a young hotshot actor brushes his noise pointedly, it’s conceivable he was merely scratching an itch.
With a 15-person ensemble squeezed into 107 minutes, we don’t learn much about the characters besides their haircuts. The most appealing characters, it turns out, are the teachers. In the film’s most moving scene, students persuade a singing instructor to explain why she quit performing. Her attempts to paint her own failures in a positive light—and the students’ understanding that she was in their shoes five minutes ago—is a rare nod to the real world that awaits.