Saturday, September 29, 2001

Glitter / * (2001)

Ever notice how famous music artists tend to have the most difficult time paving their ways into a successful movie career? The often disastrous transition that everyone is familiar with—from the examples set by Madonna, Whitney Houston and even the late Alliyah—is repeated for a zillionth time in Vondie Curtis-Hall’s “Glitter,” a film that gives pop songstress Mariah Carey 105 long minutes to show us if she is capable of holding the attention of an audience past her very extensive vocal abilities. Not surprisingly, her efforts have led to one of the most pointless and lackluster efforts to hit the big screen this year.

Perfectly setting the tone for the painful and predictable events to follow, “Glitter” opens with a staple seen in countless rags-to-riches stories—a personal tragedy at a young age becomes the stepping stone for one’s need to be a big success in the eyes of her peers. Carey plays Billie Frank, a girl who is abandoned as a kid by her alcoholic mother, is sent to live at an orphanage, is befriended by two fast-talking ladies, and grows up with them in 1980s New York City where, not coincidentally, the majority of today’s big stars were initially discovered. The movie’s immediate faults are not the ceaseless little quirks that make us want to squirm in disbelief (such as an off-the-mark performance from the lead star and an insipid use of dialogue brought on by badly written plot twists), but the motives of those who are responsible for its creation. The question we all have is so clear: what incentive did anyone have in even making this hopeless mess, other than to provide Mariah herself with a self-centered commercial advertising her ailing singing career? Carey’s recently checked into a couple of hospitals to seek treatment, reportedly for a mental breakdown, and if anyone around her seeks to bring her spirits back up into stability, the best thing they can do is keep her away from those who bothered to see this travesty of a movie. The immediate response, after all, is unlikely to provide her with a much-needed ego boost.

The year is 1983, and Billie (along with her two close friends, one of which is played by rapper Da Brat), have been hired to perform back-up vocals for an artist that, to put it delicately, is a little on the untalented side. Seeing a spark of interest when he hears her voice, the star’s producer, Timothy (Terence Howard), uses Billie’s vocals instead of those of the star’s in the song’s final cut, and when the tape begins to make the rounds on New York’s major DJs, a man dubbed D.J. Dice (Max Beesley) is so impressed that he decides to seek Billie out and make her a star. The rest, as they never fail to say, is history.

Ms. Carey claims that “Glitter” is semi-autobiographical, and on an unfortunate note, that is probably very true. Here is one example to consider: the singer herself was married to Sony Records executive Tommy Mottolla when she was given a record contract back in the early 1990s; in the movie, Billie establishes a romantic relationship with Dice, the man who serves as her manager and manages to mold her into an overnight success. There are probably greater parallels that I am overlooking here, but my point is, why should we even care? Aside from the content of Mariah’s early material, nothing about her has ever appeared to be that interesting. She didn’t work as hard as Madonna or as energetically as Janet Jackson to get where she did—she was simply in the right place at the right time, and everything sort of fell into place.

In retrospect, however, the premise is almost satisfying compared to the incompetent moves that Katie Lanier makes with this script. Though the setting here is 1983, the fashion sense is nowhere near believable, and the majority of the characters speak using slang that probably wasn’t seen anywhere until at least the early 1990s. A related problem, only much more distressing, is that Billie’s first dance hit turns out to be a remake of a Robert Palmer song, although the original track wasn’t released until two years after this film takes place. The characters are written without depth or enthusiasm, and the plot’s direction leads to an ending so manipulative and obvious that, yes, it leaves tears for all the wrong reasons.

And the saddest part is not that Mariah has apparently failed at movies, but that she’s beginning to fail at music, too. The material contained in “Glitter” is distant and unmemorable, demonstrating that writing and producing your own material doesn’t necessarily mean the results are always gold. If she hopes to retain any dignity beyond this disaster, perhaps she should just break from the entertainment industry until she has both the motivation—and the artistic inspiration—to once again create some worthwhile material. Don’t think that it’s impossible; there’s a first time for everything.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Drama (US); 2001; Rated PG-13; 105 Minutes

Mariah Carey
Billie Frank
Max Beesley
D.J. Dice
Eric Benét
Kyle Thrash
Da Brat

Produced by Laurence Mark and E. Bennett Walsh; Directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall; Screenwritten by Katie Lanier

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