Fame, a fictionalized but not entirely glamorized look at the High School for Performing Arts in New York, requires a complete suspension of belief, but once suspended, it's as easy to swallow as ice cream.
Reviewed by Stephen MacMillan Moser, Fri., July 26, 2002
D: Alan Parker, with Irene Cara, Gene Anthony Ray, Debbie Allen, Anne Meara, Albert Hague. "Remember my name ..." was the tagline for this movie, but there are not a lot of people in it whose names you'll remember. Such are the quirks of fame ... and of Fame. The movie and its Oscar-winning, eternally Eighties title song were a huge hit at the time, spawning a popular TV show and stage production. Irene Cara was a household name -- for about five minutes -- and never again realized her full potential. But with Saturday Night Fever, Xanadu, and Flashdance as evidence, it was clearly an easier time to pull off a musical. Fame is a fictionalized but not entirely glamorized look at the High School for Performing Arts in New York; the film follows the lives of a group of students, each with the burning desire to succeed in his or her chosen art. From audition day to graduation day, we watch the personal and professional dramas of these actors, dancers, singers, and musicians as they struggle to make their way through life while pursuing their dreams -- though perhaps director Parker's film The Commitments portrays the struggle a little more accurately. Having also made Bugsy Malone and The Wall, Parker is obviously partial not only to musicals but youthful angst. There's Coco, Bruno, Ralph, Montgomery, Doris, and Leroy -- some charming, some irritating, just like people we actually went to school with. The score is by the brother-and-sister team of Michael Gore (music) and Lesley Gore (lyrics ... yes, the Lesley Gore of "It's My Party" and "You Don't Own Me" fame), and the soundtrack is what makes this story come alive. And it definitely does come alive. In addition to the title track, the raucous "Red Light" and the wonderfully gooey "Out Here on My Own" all make this a joyful experience. The fabulous "I Sing the Body Electric" number at graduation makes us swell with joy, and we're as deeply proud as if they were our own relatives ... or ourselves. As with all musicals, many scenes require a complete suspension of belief, but once suspended, it's as easy to swallow as ice cream (You mean, they didn't really dance on top of taxi cabs in Times Square?!). "Fame! I want to live forever! I want to learn how to fly!" Yeah ... I did too. Back then.