Sunday, September 27, 2009

Jane and Katie see Fame

My daughter, Jane, loves movies and goes frequently, so the plan for her twenty-second birthday was to see a movie with Katie, her best friend from Special Olympics, and then have dinner at the Olive Garden. Jane chose Fame, a good choice.

Fame, the updated remake of the 1980 hit, is one big montage that cuts together scenes of young people singing, dancing, acting, and playing instruments during their four years at a performing arts high school in New York City. With very little dialogue or story, here are all the clichés – the bitter rapper-wannabe from the inner city; the hard-driven dancer who’s going to be the best; the classical pianist who goes against her father’s stringent control to become a hip-hop vocalist. We follow the hopes, the dreams, the ups, the downs, the successes, the failures, but it comes out all right for everyone, and the film ends with the students’ extravagant graduation performance that is a thrilling display of music and movement highlighted by some stunning slow-motion shots of perfect bodies flying across the stage.

Fame is a heart-warming, well-intended entertainment. It presents a Disney Channel-like fantasy world that shows teenagers who are beautiful or handsome, bright and talented, and if they are troubled, their troubles are solved by the end of the story. For Jane, a young woman with Down syndrome, this is exactly the kind of movie she wants to see, a perfect world that offers pure happiness, a world in which she can imagine what it might be like to be unencumbered by disability, a world she wants to revisit repeatedly.

There’s definitely a place in the world of cinema for a movie that’s a string of very familiar tropes embellished with great singing and dancing. For someone else, that special movie is a well-written, character-driven drama with intelligence and depth. For me, lately, it’s been Inglourious Basterds, a well-acted, meticulously orchestrated, suspenseful film that is a bold example of fine filmmaking.

Meanwhile, for Jane and Katie it was this free-spirited celebration of sound and motion. As the credits rolled, they impressed me with their knowledge of Disney Channel filmography, linking star Kay Panabaker with Phil of the Future and Anna Maria Perez de Tagle with Hannah Montana, and they turned to each other and said simultaneously, “I’m so seeing that again.” If a simple movie like this can bring such joy to two people, I thought, well, there’s good reason I have this passion for an artistic form of entertainment that holds a special power to delight the soul.


Jason Bellamy said...

Great stuff! It's a healthy reminder that there's a lot of "good" in every movie, and that if we review films properly those who would turn up their nose at Fame (and movies like it) will see the movie for what it is while those who love Fame won't have their enjoyment spoiled. It's not just a matter of having different interests. It's also a matter of recognizing that not all films need to succeed on all levels. I haven't seen Fame, but I'm sure it's full of energy, like the song. It deserves credit for that, even if that's all that it has to offer.

Hokahey said...

Good point. Yes, it has a lot of energy - and I've seen a number of these teen films about dancing and that kind of thing, but technically they are well made. I've seen Step Up, Step Up 2: The Streets, and Take the Lead - and they all borrow cliches that make you groan - they all culminate with that big performance that shows that the underdog or underdogs can do it - but the choreography is amazing.

I have been guilty of being dismissive of certain genres - but seeing movies with Jane makes more a little more tolerant each time.

MovieMan0283 said...

You raise a fair point: why knock a movie if it gives pleasure to people? To me, the difference is between something that's a "favorite" and something that's "great." There are plenty of movies I enjoy for personal reasons which may not be very good, let alone great. But they hit some sweet spot - usually a subject matter I'm interested in. I try to distinguish this from something which can be assessed from - not an objective standpoint, exactly, but a more flexible and exacting subjectivity. Mind you, I've nothing against someone who just wants a movie to entertain, on whatever level - I fall into that category myself occasionally (though less now than I used to). Ideally, I think, a crowd-pleaser would have other elements within it, so that it's just as pleasing for the person looking just for the "sweet spot" but it works on other levels as well. It seems to me that there used to be more movies like that - think how popular some of the great films of the 60s and 70s were, and how well-crafted the unapologetic entertainments of the 30s were as well.

MovieMan0283 said...

Case in point: the very intelligent Self-Styler Siren confessing her affection for a rather trashy Bronte biopic from the 40s:

Guilty pleasures - or for some, just pleasures since that's all they're looking for and have nothing to feel guilty about.

(Of course, the Siren's praise for some of the film's formal qualities also underlines what I was talking about before, the high level of craftsmanship that went into even the silliest material once upon a time...)

Hokahey said...

Thanks, MovieMan.

"It seems to me that there used to be more movies like that - think how popular some of the great films of the 60s and 70s were, and how well-crafted the unapologetic entertainments of the 30s were as well."

This is very true. We want great movies - but we need some all-round good movies to take us through the year too.

"But they hit some sweet spot - usually a subject matter I'm interested in."

Yes, well put. The sweet spot. Definitely, most Westerns will hit that spot for me, but I'm still critical of some recent ones. This year, I loved Knowing - despite all its flaws and cliches and silliness. It just entertained me - and the sweet side of it for me is that I love disaster movies. It was hard for Nic Cage to ruin it for me.

As for the 30s and 40s - they churned out a lot of good movies - not classics or films with deep meaning. Just a lot of movies that are highly watchable.