There’s a terrific story from an episode of This American Life
called “Fiasco!,” in which Jack Hitt recounts a fantastically troubled high school production of Peter Pan
and the moment when the switch is flipped for the audience and their polite, perfunctory support and nervous titters at every stage mishap devolve into all-out anarchy: a howling, heckling spectator sport. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that happens in Fame
– that moment when its not-unpromising start completely upends into a laughable train wreck – but it’s not an unpleasurable experience, at least not if you’ve a soft spot for teen dance films from Center Stage
to all things Step
. For me, for a movie to bomb, there has to be bad will there, some kind of an anti-humanist undercurrent, but there’s none of that here: This “reinventing” of the original 1980s button-pushing saga of creative teens enrolled at the New York City High School of Performing Arts is a sweet, sloppy mess. Actually, another prerequisite for a movie to bomb is for it to actually be movielike; this redo bears closer resemblance to a series of music videos strung along in a row, with only the occasional bracketing conversation. As in the original, the story is told from freshman year to senior: In brief, we meet the freshmen actors, dancers, and musicians we’ll follow through high school. The opening montage is a jazzy, grabby thing, artfully layering the kids’ auditions to mimic the frenzied pace of the day. But that freneticism never really goes away, nor does the staccato timing. Storylines to the half-dozen or so leads are piecemealed out so that every kid has, more or less, a beat a year, which means a fiery breakup in junior year is revisited, minutes later, in senior year, as if all time stood still. Indeed, in the mouths of some of the jejune cast’s most wooden performers, it almost does just that.