All that glitters isn't gold, and Mariah Carey's going to find that out this weekend when her movie finally opens. Glitter, directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall, is quite awful. But we come to praise Mariah, not bury her, in her time of mental fragility.
There are all sorts of people crossing their fingers that Glitter will be a bust and finish Mariah off for good. I am not one of those people. And I doubt her legions of fans will cooperate with Carey's enemies. (The soundtrack album, by the way, sold 116,000 copies this week and entered the charts at No. 7. So the enemies have had some success considering the No. 1 album of the week, by rapper Jay-Z, was snapped up by almost four times as many fans.)
Since Glitter is rated PG-13 and contains nothing whatsoever objectionable in the way of sex and violence, I suppose a lot of 12-year-old girls will be filling theater seats for this movie this weekend.
But Glitter is drivel — there's no other way to say it. It's also unintentionally funny, with great moments for howling. At last night's screening — the only one the movie will get before it's released — the audience couldn't help talking back to the screen and bursting out with real laughter. And after everything we've been through in the last ten days, Glitter will seem like a catharsis.
You haven't lived until you've heard Mariah's onscreen lover explain the difference between a xylophone and a marimba drum to her, the answer apparently causing her hormones to run wild. Equally funny, and never explained, is the splash of silvery gray that moves around Carey's body from scene to scene, as if she kept brushing up against wet paint on the set and no one had the nerve to tell her.
You can't blame Mariah though for the derivative, silly script. That's thanks to Kate Lanier, who lists among her credits, work on A Star is Born and the Tina Turner pic, What's Love Got to Do With It. Lanier certainly has this formula down by now since Glitter regurgitates most of the elements of the former movie and the feel of the second one. Namely: girl singer finally ditches guy who helped her get her start, then makes it as he fades out and she dedicates her superstar career to him.
Max Beesley, a British actor, plays Mariah's love interest, a popular New York club deejay in the 1980s who spots her talent and decides to make her a star. Beesley may be a Brit but he seems to channeling Mark and Donnie Wahlberg here, complete with a fake New Yawk accent that is a brutish caricature. He is also prone to wearing either an open shirt or no shirt at all through most of the movie as his way of conveying a street feel. (Frankly, the whole film could be called Sleeveless in New York, since neither of the main actors ever seems to have them. No one ever gets cold in Glitter, even in wintertime.)
Beesley's character is called Dice, which makes him sound as if he's being referred to as Andrew Dice Clay. He also gets to wear a silver name necklace with the word "Dice" flashing from it. He is the most unhip deejay since Dick Clark started hanging out with Barry Manilow.
There are a couple of good performances in Glitter, and they come from Da Brat, the female rapper, and an actress called Tia Texada. They play Mariah's back-up singers, and with little to do in the script, this pair manages to whoop it up with shtick in the background. Da Brat should be able to get her own sitcom out of Glitter, and that's saying something.
Also featured, improbably, is Padma Lakshmi, the real-life girlfriend of writer Salman Rushdie and one-time cookbook author, as a hit singer who can't carry a tune in a basket. Ann Magnuson, the only trained actor of the bunch, flits in and out as the 2001 version of Fran Drescher's record company publicist from Spinal Tap.
But oh, Glitter makes little sense. Carey's singer, named Billie, meets the deejay, they make a tape, and it gets played at a club overnight. A record company president hears it and turns her into an overnight superstar. There is almost no character development.
Billie is given up by her singer mother, improbably, because mom can't afford to keep her. Billie's father is a white yuppie who lives in a fancy building but doesn't acknowledge her or the mother: He gives the mom wads of cash then shuts the door on her.
The clichés are rampant and hysterical. In the absolutely most hilarious scene in the movie, Billie — now a star — is chauffered in a limo after her Madison Square Garden debut show to the missing mother's rural home in Maryland. The trip seems like it takes hours and includes shots of farmland to indicate the mother's impoverished state.
Mom, a failed blues singer played well by soap actress Valarie Pettiford, resembles all too closely the actress Margaret Avery, who played the singer Shug in The Color Purple. When a tearful Mariah/Billie exits the limo on her mother's front lawn, dressed in a sheer glittery dress and high heels, it's hard to restrain yourself from filling in the blanks à la Mystery Science Theatre 3000: "Shug, Celie, Harpo — I'm home!"
Indeed, Mariah is not much of an actress, even with all the coaching. Her face seems immutable, as if it were full of paralyzing forces that prevent her from showing emotion. And her outfits are a riot. One wag sitting near me suggested that she has a "cleavage cam" since there is barely a frame that does not focus on Carey's body, particularly her firm, unmoving breasts.
But look, I'll tell you what's good here and salvageable: Mariah Carey sings like a thrush. One song, called "Never Far Away," is built like Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" from The Bodyguard. But Carey knocks it out of the ballpark. You can't deny the power and timbre of her voice when it's well-matched with suitable material.
"Twister," a ballad about suicide, is also delivered really well. And "Lead the Way," a Walter Afanasieff composition, is terrific. Carey's future lies in singing, not acting, that much is clear. But there's nothing wrong with that. If only she'd put on some clothes and put that voice to good use, she'd have no reason for any kind of breakdown.
As if Glitter weren't enough to chew on, Mariah is scheduled to perform the song "Hero" on the all-network variety show fund-raiser tomorrow night.
In the movie, Carey's character is shown jotting down song ideas in her notebook. In real life, Carey's writing books almost got her into trouble with "Hero."
Although his case against her has been dismissed, Long Islander Chris Selletti has claimed for a year that he wrote the lyrics to "Hero." Carey countered that the song was written for the Dustin Hoffman movie Hero. She produced notebooks in court and insisted they were evidence of this.
Unfortunately, the notebooks showed her working on the song in November 1992. The movie Hero had been released a month earlier, in October 1992, so the song could not possibly have been written for it.
Nevertheless, Judge Denny Chin ruled against Seletti and prevented him from ever having his day in court. At a hearing, Chin himself cross-examined Seletti and made mincemeat out of him. The court never got to hear that Mariah settled several plagiarism suits over the last decade, paying off the plaintiffs but denying any guilt. And it never took into account the preposterous difference in the dates. It didn't want to be confused with the facts.
Interestingly, a new wrinkle developed in this case last month. Jeffrey Levitt, Seletti's attorney, having been thwarted by Carey's attorneys and Judge Chin, nevertheless proceeded to try to attack the case in a different way. He wrote a letter to Judge Chin suggesting that he might try to get a judgment against R&B legend Sly Stone, whom Seletti drove a car for and may have been the conduit between the fledging songwriter and the star.
Even though Carey was no longer part of the case, Judge Chin did something highly unusual. He invited Carey's lawyers to file an opinion of Levitt's letter, despite the fact that the case against Carey had been dismissed and she was not a party to the new action. Chin was planning on using this odd letter from Carey's attorney Orin Snyder as the basis for his response to Levitt.
Levitt was incensed. He wrote to Judge Chin the next day. "What the Court has done is to give the Sony defendants standing to object to proceedings for which they really have no standing." He immediately withdrew his letter, seeing that Chin would permit Sony to interfere with the Stone procedure — and continue to shield Mariah from ever owning up to the origins of "Hero."