(2001, Drama/Musical, color)
Mike Nelson and Mary Jo Pehl
And the crowd goes tepid.
In a nutshell:
Mariah Carey expends no effort whatsoever while others work to make her a star.
Billie Frank (Mariah Carey) grows up with her alcoholic mom...blah, blah, blah...goes into the music business and is hired to ghost the voice of a less talented singer...etc., etc...dates a DJ who produces tracks that catapult her to superstardom...rapeta, rapeta...
I know that the above paragraph contains a lot of ellipses and filler words. Usually I use these for comedic effect and/or to indicate that the story is clichéd and boring, but in this case I think they may have actually been written into the script. (Or, as Mike puts it, “This director’s from the Yada, Yada, Yada School of Filmmaking.”) “First this will happen,” the filmmakers said, “Then that, and then that other thing. Stuff will probably happen in between.” “What kind of stuff?” ask the hardworking assistant filmmakers. “Doesn’t matter,” comes the reply. And thus the rest of the movie is filled with whatever can be thought of at the last minute, such as:
a) A subplot in which Mariah’s addict mom abandons her to social services, promising to come back for her just as soon as she’s clean and sober. This never happens, though DJ boyfriend Dice finds out where her mom lives just before he dies in subplot b. Mom greets her with open arms in the last few seconds of the film, with nary an explanation for the abandonment. (And don’t try to tell me her mom lost track of her. According to the film, Mariah’s character has been an international superstar for months if not years before the tearful reunion.)
b) A subplot in which Dice agrees to pay sleazy R&B producer Timothy Walker (Terrence Howard) one hundred thousand to buy out Billie’s ghosting contract. Walker releases Billie but Dice later refuses to pay for no easily explainable reason. (Of course no backup singer, however talented, is worth that kind of money. But if he didn’t want to pay, he shouldn’t have made the deal in the first place, especially not with a violent street pimp masquerading as a music producer.) The dispute inevitably escalates to relationship problems, violence, and murder. Near the end, Mariah shamelessly rips off A Star is Born by having Billie sing a tearful ode to her deceased boyfriend for a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden.
c) Something that desperately wishes it was a subplot, involving a pair of fellow former orphanage dwellers who have become her backup singers and dancers. These characters (played by Da Brat and Tia Texada) don’t do much but hang around and reinforce the Sassy Ethnic Woman stereotype—though I suppose they subvert the cliché a little in that Sassy Ethnic Women are supposed to be wise, while these two couldn’t light a match with a burning candle.
Much has been made of Mariah Carey’s wooden acting in this film, but I’m not sure if I agree. I’m not sure if I disagree either, since in order to pass judgment on her acting ability, I’d need to see some kind of acting performance. One of the oddest things about this film is that, though it’s ostensibly a vanity project for its star, it does very little to showcase her. Sure, she sings occasionally, and though I’m not exactly a fan, I’ll admit I’m impressed by her astonishing vocal agility and her inhuman range. The film’s focus on “her story,” however, seems to consist of the other actors performing around her; moving her along with them from place to place like a sparkly prop with breasts. Nothing says “drama” like a completely passive main character.
Also of note are the many extreme, attention-grabbing visual gimmicks throughout. The swish-pans, the fast-motion aerial shots, the “dolly in and zoom out while pulling the background out of focus” nonsense, the blinding thermonuclear explosion-esque wipes between the early jump cuts—most directors use these kinds of effects sparingly to enhance an already dramatic moment. Glitter director Vondie Curtis-Hall just tosses them around like confetti, providing a great deal of welcome but unintentional hilarity in an otherwise bland film.
Mary Jo Pehl, a.k.a. The Artist Formerly Known as Pearl Forrester, joins Mike Nelson on the commentary track. Her style differs from Mike’s and indeed from most of the other guest riffers in that she seems to be genuinely happy to be watching the film, laughing giddily at the film’s more ridiculous moments and occasionally at her co-riffer’s sillier jokes. (Most notably during the recording session with Eric Benét, when Mike shouts “Booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty!” and so on over the lascivious synthesizer music.) It’s refreshing to hear, and I hope she does more of these with Mike in the future. Other good comments come during the Alcoholic Mom and Neglected Kid bar duo when Mary asks, “Where’s Simon Cowell when you need him?” Later, during a discussion about an important album-related meeting at which Billie does not seem to have been present, Mike says, “She started to get involved in her own career, but just kind of lost interest.” Near the end, when the crowd is raging at Madison Square Garden, Mike wonders at their enthusiasm by saying, “These people do know they're about to see Billie Frank, right? It’s not like they're going to see an elephant fighting a whale, or the first confirmed leprechaun.” It’s an excruciatingly boring film, but Mary Jo’s joy is infectious, and she and Mike are clever enough to make it funny viewing.
(2001, Drama/Musical, color)