Fame High

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Fame High Movie Poster Image
Arts docu shows how hard passionate teens work in school.
  • NR
  • 2013
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

The documentary encourages hard work, practice, and trying to reach for your dreams. It also stresses the importance of parents supporting their kids toward greatness without pushing them too hard (or trying to live vicariously through them).

Positive role models & representations

The four featured kids are all hardworking, passionate artists who want to succeed in their fields. Brittany's mother and father believe in her so wholeheartedly that they're willing to sacrifice their proximity to help her reach her dreams. Ruby's parents are in the industry and understand/support/appreciate everything Ruby is doing to further her craft.

Violence
Sex

Grace mentions crushes on two different classmates throughout her senior year but until the very end feels she can't disobey her parents' rules.

Language

One use of "s--t."

Consumerism

Zak mentions that he and his father dream of owning a Lexus or an Audi.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Fame High is a documentary that follows four students -- two freshmen and two seniors -- as they navigate their way through the elite and competitive public high school, LACHSA (Los Angeles County High School for the Arts). There's nothing inappropriate for tweens, save for one "s--t" and a few mentions of how parents are overly conservative. Otherwise tweens and teens will get a good look at what life is like for incredibly driven and talented arts students at a real Fame-like high school and the issues they face during one academic year.

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What's the story?

FAME HIGH follows four students at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA), a prestigious public high school with famous alumni including Josh Groban, Jenna Elfman, Corbin Bleu, and Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson. Viewers meet two freshmen -- Zak, a jazz piano prodigy with an overbearing father who considers his son's talent a one-way ticket out of a dangerous neighborhood, and Ruby, an aspiring actress with parents who work in professional theater -- and two seniors: Brittany, who moved from Wisconsin with her mom -- leaving behind a loving dad and two siblings -- to give her singer/songwriter career a chance, and Grace, a Korean-American ballerina who dreams of attending Juilliard and wishes her parents weren't so strict about dating. The documentary follows all four throughout a school year as they make decisions that could impact their ability to graduate and become professional artists.

Is it any good?

Fame High's four stories are all compelling, but documentarian Scott Hamilton Kennedy doesn't dig deeper into some of the family issues. Zak's controlling father, or how Brittany and her mom's decision to move to Los Angeles (although the parents are still married) affects her family -- those could be expanded on. Grace's storyline is the deepest, because not only is she brutally honest about how strict her parents are, but her parents also share their hopes and fears about a daughter going into dance instead of something more stable, like law or medicine. There are no major disasters along the way, but the film does show how, no matter how talented these kids are, the road to a professional career in the arts has only a 2.5 percent chance of success.

The four teens depicted deal with everything from sweet flirtations and nerve-wracking auditions to a string of various disappointments. Some of the parents are enthusiastic about their teens' careers, while others are proud but worried about the prospect of having a kid in show business. It would have been fascinating to hear more from the LACHSA teachers who've met year after year of hopeful musicians, dancers, actors, and artists, but, as-is, the adolescents' experiences offer an eye-opening, entertaining story about the importance of arts education and the passion and discipline (and thick skin) required for budding artists to become professionals.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss how arts, both in and out of school, are such a positive influence on kids' lives. Why are arts-based shows and films so popular?

  • Are you involved with the arts? Do you think you'd want to attend a high school for the performing arts? Did Fame High influence you one way or the other?

  • How does the amount of work and commitment these teens show compare to portrayals on shows like Glee and Dance Academy or in movies like Center Stage or Fame?

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