Sparkle, written and directed
by the team of Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter, is hard to pin down.
The script is uneven but features good characters and realistically-drawn
situations. The performances are mostly solid, but the direction
is clunky. The film often feels unsure of its footing, and the
PAL video visuals don't do it any aesthetic favors. Yet there
is charm here, helped along by good performances and some smart scene-building.
Sam (Shaun Evans) is new to London,
and takes a job as a personal assistant to PR maven Sheila (Stockard
Channing). He's in his twenties and she's much older.
They begin sleeping together immediately, but the relationship isn't
going anywhere, even though it satisfies Sam's bloated ego.
In addition, Sam's strained relationship with his mother, Jill (Lesley
Manville), a single budding singer, has a somewhat Freudian resonance
upon his dalliance with Sheila. But an even more important woman
is about to enter his life: Kate (Amanda Ryan) is nothing short of Sam's
dream girl, and his immediate devotion to her challenges his thinking
as to how the other women in his life deserve to be treated. Conflicts
naturally arise among and between Sam and the women, all of which contribute
to Sam growing into a self-respecting adult.
I liked the characters of Sparkle
and their dynamics. Sam is arrogant, but believably and sympathetically
so. We know that, like George in The Magnificent
Ambersons, or Pip in Great Expectations, he's going to
get a comeuppance of sorts, and even though Sam's isn't as painful
as the lessons learned by those earlier characters, he does learn humility
and comes to see the pain he has inflicted upon others - particularly
his mother - through his careless egotism. Shaun Evans always
manages keep Sam more or less likeable throughout the film, despite
Sam's relationship with Kate begins
with a nice, believably tentative quality, brought on in large part
by Sam's guilt and mixed feelings about his relationships with Sheila
and Jill. Amanda Ryan is charming as Kate, just as the rest of
the cast does an admirable job. Bob Hoskins is on hand as Sam's
father figure, a friend of the family who has romantic designs on Jill.
And Channing is typically excellent as Sheila, conveying authoritative
coldness with a good English accent.
Despite interesting characters and
good performances, there are some important things in Sparkle
that don't work, like the pacing and the directorial style.
Scene transitions are clunky. We are often unsure as to how much
time has passed between scenes or sequences. The confusion over
these technical transitions is sometimes mirrored by minor but hard-to-track
changes in character motivation. Just as important is the strange
visual style of the film, which looks like it was shot on video with
a very dated television lighting scheme. The movie has that phony
"TV" look of EastEnders or other British (and American) television
programs. It's a strange choice for a film shot in 2007.
As I said above, the film has a strange visual look which is not helped
by a poor transfer from PAL sources. The video is broken up into
over-sharp horizontal sections, giving it a striped look that is no
doubt a result of having been moved from PAL to NTSC none too carefully.
The combination of visual style and poor transfer makes Sparkle
look like a real hack job, which, overall, it is not.
The 5.1 surround soundtrack is really just stereo with some minimal
ambience thrown to the surround speakers. Still, it's an even,
clear track that does this character-driven drama justice.
There is a very brief behind-the-scenes featurette, and an
equally short interview segment with writer-directors Hunsinger
Sparkle is enjoyable enough
for what it is, despite being an unsatisfying visual experience.
Hunsinger and Hunter, and their cast, have worked hard to create credible
characters who embark together upon a convincingly transformative series
of events. Rent it.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.