It's really unfair to hang Mariah Carey out to dry for the lack of finesse in her starring debut "Glitter" (IMDb listing). She's an easy target for a film that wouldn't have worked for anyone who dared step into this silly "A Star Is Born" carbon copy. To find out what really makes "Glitter" such a snoozer, I think the blame should start at the top and just work its way down. Ms. Carey is the least of the problems in "Glitter."
Separated from her neglectful mother at a young age, Billie Frank (Mariah Carey) has spent her lifetime underestimating her life and her amazing vocal talents. When a hipster DJ named Dice (Max Beesley) discovers Billie in his club, he takes the inexperienced talent and helps her to blossom into a chart-topping star. Yet the pressures of fame have excluded Dice from Billie's life. As she struggles with her newfound success and her many potential suitors (Mr. Halle Berry himself, Eric Benet), Billie continues to carry a torch for her former boyfriend Dice, even if that means confronting her own issues of abandonment with her mother.
"Glitter" opens as a freewheeling trip back in time to the '80s when the clubs were king and the music was decadent. The enthusiasm of these opening scenes is contagious. The picture moves fast and sensibly as we watch Billie's rise to stardom. But aspirations of fame are not what "Glitter" has in mind. As quickly as it opens, the picture soon jettisons that energy in favor of a more soap opera look at a stale relationship between the artist and muse. It's disheartening to suddenly realize a perfectly light and bouncy movie suddenly has less appetizing things on its mind. There was no need for "Glitter" to get so serious, especially when the two leads don't have a clue as to how to form a dramatic moment.
What my expectations were and what you actually get from Carey's acting are two separate things. In "Glitter," Carey is practically a wallflower. Considering her off-screen reputation, this is a revelation. She's content to let the rest of the cast (including the bizarre Terrence Howard) stomp all around, wrestling every scene from her. She looks uncomfortable in front of the camera. It's amazing director Vondie Curtis-Hall didn't step in at some point to loosen Carey up, because in my heart of hearts, I think Carey could be an decent actress. You'd think "Glitter" would bring the best out of Carey, as it is marginally based on her own life for goodness sake!
The only time Carey commands the audience's attention to the screen is when she sings. Yet, in a particularly foolish decision, Carey never sings live. Every time she opens her mouth to sing in the picture, an earlier recording of her voice takes over. Carey is known around the world for her pipes, but in "Glitter" she seems afraid to use them in an authentic way.
Carey also has to contend with her co-star Beesley. An English actor who tries to butch up in an effort to appear like a true New Yorker, Beesley comes off about as authentically New Yorkian as that flavor of vanilla ice cream. The two actors share no chemistry, leaving Carey with no one to play off of to save her.
"Glitter" is set in 1983. It takes full advantage of the sights and sounds of the era, yet it manipulates the period for whatever needs that must be met. Nobody except the supporting cast dresses particularly of the era, and Billie's music is a bit ahead of its time. The manipulation of the setting adds to the overall nonsense of the picture. Other laps in directorial judgment include: Billie's rise from club rat to a sold out, Madison Square Garden tour date apparently only takes mere months, she holds the number one single in America for 10 weeks in a row, yet saunters around New York without one person taking a second look and Carey is an artist that has built an entire career out of selling her body, so it seems a little absurd to have Billie be a character who is shy about her appearance (a character point that did elicit laughs from my audience). Director Curtis-Hall tries to tart up the production with quick cuts and a lightning pace, yet he can only do so much when logic is obviously not that big a concern.
With no real emotional material to carry it though to the end, "Glitter" is all style and no substance. Not even the music is all that interesting, considering the film is a big commercial for the soundtrack. If Mariah Carey is the star "Glitter" suggests that she is, she will transcend this mess. Otherwise, maybe the pop star should avoid an Elvis-type career in films and just go back to singing.
Filmfodder Grade: D