Critics' Pick

Fame High (NR)

Documentary 101 December 31, 1969
By Steve Erickson
Fame High is billed as a “documentary musical,” which conjures up images of some Ryan Murphy-inspired Frankenstein monster. Thankfully, this is no Glee clone. The film follows four teenagers—two freshmen, two seniors—across a year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Zak is a jazz pianist, Grace a dancer, Brittany a singer/songwriter, and Ruby an actress. Its subjects’ parents run from skeptical—Grace’s parents are a strict Korean-American couple who run a yogurt shop and worry about her ability to support herself through the arts—to the surprisingly supportive. Brittany comes from a small town in Wisconsin, and her mother has followed her out to L.A. (while remaining married to her father, who’s stayed behind) to guide her through auditions at open mic nights as she finishes high school. The dilemmas Fame High’s four subjects face are real, and Kennedy gets plenty of drama from the prospect of failure and disappointment. Compared to the cast of reality shows like Teen Mom 2, these teens are a refreshingly wholesome bunch, and if they skip school, they’re doing it to attend auditions. I could have done without the hyperbolic optimism of the finale, when the doc basically turns into a PSA for arts education, but for most of its length, it’s a fairly complex drama about the rewards and risks of becoming an artist, told from an unusual perspective.
Scott Hamilton Kennedy

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