Monday, August 9, 2010

A Decade of Dreck #25: Glitter

Charge Shot!!! is celebrating the end of the decade in the most masochistic way we know how - by watching and writing about the 100 worst movies of the last ten years as defined by film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Click here to see RT's complete list, click here for more about the Decade of Dreck project, and click here to see all of the movies we've done so far.

All you ever need to know about 2001's Glitter can come from the mouth of its star, Mariah Carey: "It's in the early '80s, in the club scene of that time. I play a singer, Billie, who's mixed race, from a white father and a black mother. Billie grows up in a foster home, because her mother abandoned her. Later on she meets a DJ and becomes a star in just one night. The point is, that all this time she waits for her mother to return."

There, I saved you two hours. You can thank me when I've watched the hundredth movie for this feature.

The singer-to-actor crossover phenomenon is a tenuous one. Sometimes it works: think Frank Sinatra or Will Smith (there's a buddy movie that should have been). Sometimes if one doesn't ask too much of the performers, it will turn out just fine: think the Beatles playing themselves in the comedic Hard Day's Night. But sometimes you ask someone with zero acting experience just a little too much, such as having them play a thinly-veiled version of themselves. This has been seen before: Eminem's 8 Mile and 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin', for example.

I haven't seen 8 Mile, and though I've heard it's good, I simply refuse to see a movie about how amazing Eminem's struggle to become a rap superstar was; at least not with him starring in it, that just seems both masturbatory and self-congratulatory. I have seen Get Rich or Die Tryin', and oh man- it is exactly what one would expect from a movie starring a man whose rapping already resembles mumbling; just wait until you hear his line readings.

Glitter suffers from the same problem; we're getting the story of Mariah Carey, starring Mariah Carey as Mariah Carey. Excuse me, "Billie Frank" (two first names!). What might have been an interesting story about a preternaturally talented singer's rise to fame is hamstrung by the vanity which peppers its very existence.

The film starts with showing Mariah Care...I'm sorry, Billie Frank's tragic upbringing. Her singer mother abandons her to foster care. Carey has said that this is the major divergence from her real life; she has a great relationship with her mom, she says. Well, I guess that's a big enough difference! Anyway, Billie becomes a dancer and back-up singer in the very gay, very coked-out New York of the mid 1980's. There, a DJ named Dice (played by some guy who is either Ewan McGregor's Non-Union Mexican Equivalent or Stephen Dorff, I'm not sure which) discovers her and helps her make the big time. But, to quote the Netflix synopsis " she reaches the pinnacle of stardom, will she remember the 'little people' in her life... for starters, her mom?"

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Billie Frank is such a saint and such a good friend who is as true to her roots as Bob Dylan would have been if he never went electric. Her entire time spent in the limelight is spent with her defending her childhood friends who have been with her since the start and resisting the urge of music video directors and publicists to sex her up. Glitter lacks drama because it's heroine isn't flawed and doesn't grow. One may be fooled by the "rocks" that she has recently acquired but Carey's screen avatar remains "Billie From the Block", so to speak.

Instead, we the viewers are treated to at least an hour of scenes featuring the entire music industry cooing about how amazingly talented Billie is. The film functions mostly as an excuse to tell one just how awesome Mariah Carey is and how she would like, never turn her back on her friends or let fame go to her head. Did I mention that she's writing her own music, about her mom? The world around her may be irredeemably corrupt, but "Bille Frank" is an unshakably good person.

Is there anything good about Glitter? Well, Terrence Howard and Padma Lakshmi of all people show up as a sort of low-rent Morris Day and Apollonia, which makes me think of a much better movie about the rise and fall and rise of a 1980's musician. Oh well, we'll always have "Heartbreaker". I love that song.

Glitter is ranked #99 on the Rotten Tomatoes Worst 100 list with 7% freshness. Its RT page can be found here.