By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: School of Performing arts.
Filmed at the now demolished Haaren High School the film is intended to be a showcase of New York’s famous Fiorello LaGuardia High School that specialized in training students in the arts, dance and drama. The story centers on an eclectic mix of teens that join the school. There’s Doris (Maureen Teefy) who is pushed by her mother (Tresa Hughes) into becoming a singer/actress despite suffering from horrible stage fright. Leroy (Gene Anthony Ray) wants to become a dancer despite not being able to read while Ralph (Barry Miller), Montgomery (Paul McCrane) and Bruno (Lee Curreri) all suffer from personal demons/insecurities of their own.
I’m sure in its day this came off as fresh and exhilarating, but time has not been kind to it. The film starts out with the teens auditioning to get into the school, which might have been interesting had it not come off as a poor man’s version of ‘American Idol’, which has dulled our senses so much to the audition process that anything else now seems second-rate. I think what surprised me most about these scenes is how patient the judges/instructors were as all of the teen’s auditions were quite poor and they should’ve been politely escorted out a minute into them instead of being allowed to continue on with something that was clearly not working. What shocked me even more though is that several of the main characters gave horrid auditions that made it look like they had no talent at all and yet somehow they were accepted into the school anyways making it look like this wasn’t necessarily a place for gifted students after all, but instead just someplace willing to bring in any loser that wanted in.
The characters aren’t appealing either. Doris is much too neurotic; Montgomery is boringly benign and Ralph comes off as an obnoxious, attention-seeking clown. There are many scenes showing the students being highly disrespectful to their instructors that normally would’ve gotten them kicked out of any other school, but here for some reason they don’t. Out of all the students Coco (Irene Cara) was the only one I liked as she had genuine talent and also seemed much more dedicated, but the film ends up degrading her by having her character go to a rundown apartment of some slimy producer who wants to ‘audition’ her for his next film even though it is quite obvious to any viewer that the guy is a first-rate sleazebag and his audition is clearly just a set-up to a scam, or in this case an underground porno.
The script is filled with a lot of unresolved storylines and loopholes. For instance Leroy is unable to read and when this gets discovered he tears up the school in a fit of rage and yet somehow still remains a student for the full four years. Did he eventually teach himself how to read and pay for the damages that he caused? These pertinent questions never get answered, but really should’ve.
I enjoyed the shots capturing the New York’s busy and sometimes dangerous city sidewalks as well as a bird’s-eye shot of Times Square. The scene where a couple of students go to a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture is great, but the rest of the movie is just one long mish-mash. At certain points it tries to be a gritty drama and then at other times it breaks out into tacky dance routines. Instead of being a compelling drama it’s more of a broad overview and would’ve worked much better had the number of main characters been paired down to just one or two and the time span cut from four years to just one.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: May 16, 1980
Runtime: 2Hours 13Minutes
Director: Alan Parker
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube