Screenplay : Kate Lanier (story by Cheryl L. West)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Mariah Carey (Billie Frank), Max Beesley (Julian Dice), Da Brat (Louise), Tia Texada (Roxanne), Terrence Howard (Charlie), Valarie Pettiford (Lillian Frank), Ann Magnuson (Publicist)
Neil Diamond failed miserably in The Jazz Singer (1980). Rick Springfield couldn't do it in Hard to Hold (1984). So why should it be of any surprise that Glitter, pop diva Mariah Carey's vanity project about the trials and tribulations of being a pop star, should fail as well?
Commodified, vacuous, and—worst of all—terribly boring, Glitter traces the meteoric rise (notice, no fall) of a fictional pop sensation name Billie Frank who looks and sings just like Mariah Carey and shares a few thinly disguised biographical similarities, as well. Perhaps trying to create some distance between the character and the woman who plays her on-screen, Glitter is set in the neon glam era of the 1980s, but it doesn't have any of the fun or vibrancy one might expect in a story set in the hedonistic, me-centered days of the Reagan years. There are no references to drugs, debauchery, or scandal, making the movie feel as though it takes place in some alternate universe where the '80s were all about good, clean fun and celebrating real talent.
The story begins sometimes in the 1970s with Billie as a young girl who is being raised by her well-meaning, but alcoholic jazz-singing mother (Valarie Pettiford). In the opening scene, young Billie gets up on stage and sings with her mother, and much attention is lavished on how incredible Billie's voice is, which is, of course, an obvious way of deflecting what is actually adulation for Mariah Carey's undeniable vocal talents. Billie, like Carey, is a child of mixed races, her mother being African-American and her father being a white jerk who wants nothing to do with her. Her mother eventually has to give her up to an orphanage, where she meets her two best friends for life, Louise (Da Brat) and Roxanne (Tia Texada).
The movie then jumps forward to 1983 where Billie lands a gig as a backup singer for an obviously untalented front woman. A well-known New York City DJ named Julian Dice (Max Beesley) immediately recognizes her potential and offers to produce her, promising that someday she will play Madison Square Garden. Billie is skeptical (you see, she has this problem trusting people...), but she and Dice eventually fall in love at about the same time that she scores a hit single, gets signed to a major label, and finds herself starring in music videos. It isn't long after this that Dice suddenly morphs into a jealous and bitter jerk who can't deal with Billie's success, a belabored plot development that is badly handled in every conceivable way.
This isn't surprising considering the secondary nature of the plot in Glitter. Written by Kate Lanier (whose last job was cowriting the disastrous 1999 big-screen version of The Mod Squad) from a story by Cheryl L. West, Glitter is in a constant state of rush, moving rapidly from one scene to the next with almost no consideration for character or emotion. As the central protagonist, Billie is an incredibly fatuous creation. Perhaps out of fear of making Mariah Carey look bad, Billie has been written as a flawless human being—incredibly talented, selfless even in the face of superstardom, and so down-to-earth that, even when she's a bona-fide pop sensation, she still walks the streets of New York alone and sleeps in her friends' grungy apartment. It doesn't help that Carey has almost no range as an actress. When she's singing, she's dynamite; when she has to deliver dialogue or react to something, she looks lost. There are times when you can literally sense her looking just off camera, as if asking the director, "Is this pouty look okay?"
Director Vondie Curtis-Hall (Gridlock'd) does everything he can to pump up the volume, giving us heavy doses of elaborate high-angle shots, jump cuts, sped-up photography, and canted angles, but it's all to little avail. No matter what visual pyrotechnics he throws down, he can't disguise the fact that he's dealing with a shallow, cliche-ridden script designed through and through as a star vehicle for Carey. Glitter certainly has surface—like Carey's music videos, it's buffed and polished to a high sheen. But, like music videos, it isn't even skin deep; the eye-candy surface is the beginning and the end, with nothing in-between.
If the movie had been guilty, campy fun like the old Elvis Presley star vehicles, it might have been more bearable to sit through. But, unfortunately, despite what the title suggests, Glitter is just dull.
Copyright © 2001 James Kendrick