Time Out New York Project: Issue #731, October 1-7, 2009
Dir. Kevin Tancharoen. 2009. PG. 90mins. Kay Panabaker, Collins Pennie, Naturi Naughton.
It’s an understatement to say that this update of Alan Parker’s not-so-classic art-school drama is an idealized portrait. The film condenses four years of adolescent ups and downs into ninety minutes, including credits. Would that all our teenage years could proceed so briskly with the added benefit of seamlessly integrated dance numbers, and mentors played by Charles S. Dutton and Karen from Will and Grace.
The brushstrokes are broad, but they fit the canvas: The first and best musical interlude, set during a cafeteria lunch break, sees most of the students using their respective talents to harmonize in ecstatic multicultural glory. What keeps it from cloying sentiment is the way director Kevin Tancharoen shapes the sequence around two outsiders, Denise (Naughton) and Malik (Pennie), who’d rather be by themselves. Not everyone feels like singing and dancing.
There are enough hoary soap-operatic plottings for a thousand Gossip Girls (emotionally distant parents, almost-rapes, suicide attempts), yet Tancharoen individualizes each crisis so that no one character comes off as a mock-universal surrogate. It helps that Fame has been cast with performers who have the glow of possibility about them (or, in the case of the teachers, the necessary world-weariness). It gives the graduation-ceremony finale, which is superficially played for uplift, something of a bitter subtext. You can’t help but think: lambs to the slaughter.—Keith Uhlich