Posted: 09/28/2009



by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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I can’t say that I remember the other Fame movie, but I like the latest version of a movie that gives high school students a chance to exceed, not only in the performing arts but academically as well.
The movie centers on the lives of New York City High School of Performing Arts students, as they enter the institution and follows them until graduation.
Fame chronicles the joys and pains of aspiring artists, with a cast of instructors that includes Charles Dutton, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally, Bebe Neuwirth and Debbie Allen as the head of the school.

Naturi Naughton has redeemed herself in Fame, as far as I’m concerned, after playing a raunchy Lil Kim in Notorious. Naughton plays Denise, who is sort of a preppy and comes from a middle class family. She even takes cabs to school, as her father is very protective of her. So much so that both father and mother are a bit concerned when Denise ventures away from classical piano as her life-long love to something in the pop/hip-hop genre.
Of course, in the original Fame, which premiered nearly 30 years ago, Irene Cara and Gene Anthony Ray were the standouts, and although Ray is dead, it would have been nice to see a cameo of Cara in this movie.

Malik, played by Collins Penne, is another student who has a troubled past, but he’s able to break through with much prodding by Dutton, who is the theatre instructor.
Most of the students have one story to tell or another, but they all think they will make it big, after having made it through four years of strenuous academics and arts rehearsals at this prestigious school. And though each student may have his or her own story to tell, Malik’s mom doesn’t know he’s going to P.A., and she’d rather he didn’t get his hopes set on a theatre career. On the other hand, Denise’s parents, while they have protected her all her life, have to accept the fact that she may excel in more than just classical piano.

An assortment of disciplines is offered, including dance, orchestra, piano and theatre, and the scenes in the lunchroom where the students just go for it and freestyle are exciting.
One young man, an aspiring screenwriter, gets conned out of $5,000, as he tries to reach too high too soon by taking a script to a producer who runs off with his money—money that he begged his father who is a butcher to front for him.

Many of the students learn similar lessons, maybe not by losing their money, but by reaching for the stars too soon and finding themselves in comprising situations or even just dropping out of school entirely.

Of course, graduation is one big performance, but the students have had many times in front of strange audiences, as a couple of the instructors take them to the local clubs so they can hone their skills.

Fame is a good movie for students all over to see: they get to see what hard work can reap for them in the end. And for some it may not be the stars, but it will definitely be an education and something upon which to hitch a wagon and go for the gold!
Fame is in theaters now.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.

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