DVD Review: Subpar ‘Sparkle’ Barely Manages a Flicker

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CHICAGO – There are few things more queasy than a feel good comedy that fails to make you feel good. Every film strives to master the art of manipulation, with wildly varying degrees of success. When a film makes consistent failed attempts to manipulate the emotions of its audience, it may result in viewers feeling increasingly nauseous until they’re about ready to hurl.

The 2007 British comedy “Sparkle” certainly seems to have a lot going for it, including a strong cast under the direction of acclaimed filmmaking team Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter, perhaps best known for their 2001 effort, “Lawless Heart.” But “Sparkle” is missing many key ingredients that would’ve provided its secret to success, the most glaring of which is a likable lead character.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 2.0/5.0
DVD Rating: 2.0/5.0

Enter our protagonist, Sam Sparkes, whose name sounds like that of a failed magician. He’s played by Shaun Evans, a perfectly capable actor who seems to trust that his character will somehow manage to be charming in spite of himself. Alas, Sam is nothing more than a smug opportunist who uses everyone in life simply to get what he wants. He’s introduced as a bored 22-year-old trapped in a life with his overbearing mother (Lesley Manville), who’s hellbent on becoming the next Susan Boyle. Sam’s dreams seem more within reach: he wants to move to London and find a job in PR. Thus, when his mother’s stalker/admirer Vince (Bob Hoskins) offers for him to stay at his London flat, Sam jumps at the chance…as does this mother. This setup would be perfectly fine if Sam was the least bit sympathetic, or if the plot was the least bit plausible. It’s not long before Sam is sleeping his way to the top by bedding Sheila (Stockard Channing), the PR boss of his dreams. Yet when Sam spots Kate (Amanda Ryan), a sexy girl closer to his age, the young man’s priorities become overpowered by a force greater than money. The film calls it love, I call it hormones.

Stockard Channing and Shaun Evans star in Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter’s Sparkle.
Stockard Channing and Shaun Evans star in Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter’s Sparkle.
Photo credit: Revolver Entertainment

Without revealing too much of the film’s eye-rolling plot twists, let’s just say that “Sparkle” eventually reveals itself to be a tired retread of “The Graduate,” minus the brilliant satire and provocative ambiguity Mike Nichols and his crew brought to the material. Hunsinger and Hunter are only interested in aiming for a happy ending, filled with blissful smiles unwilling to accept the phoniness of their elation. If there are any tangible reasons to bother seeking out this dud, it’s the wonderful yet underutilized supporting performances from Channing and Hoskins.

Though Manville is earning raves for her performance in Mike Leigh’s upcoming feature, “Another Year,” her character in “Sparkle” is too annoying to be charming. It’s clear that Manville has a gift for neurotic humor, but the material works against her comic instincts. Channing, however, is sublime in the “Mrs. Robinson” role, emerging as the picture’s most fully human (and therefore empathetic) character. In her mid-60s, Channing is beginning to resemble Lauren Bacall, and the world-weariness in her sharp eyes is quite transfixing. And though Hoskins’s saintly character is just this side of infuriating, the veteran actor is utterly irresistible in the role. He’s like Wallace without Gromit. When he finally slaps some sense into Sam, and orders him to right his wrongs, and win back the heart of his true love, how does the kid go about redeeming himself? He steals a dolphin doll. What a jackass.

Sparkle was released on DVD on Sept. 7, 2010.
Sparkle was released on DVD on Sept. 7, 2010.
Photo credit: Revolver Entertainment

“Sparkle” is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and may have received a slightly higher rating if its disc didn’t include two major technical errors. The picture quality is just dreadful, with digital fuzz visible during even the merest movement of the image. This alone makes the film practically unwatchable (oddly, the trailer is crystal clear in comparison). And like several recent DVD releases, the disc contains no subtitles, which is an infuriating omission not only for viewers with hearing impairments, but also moviegoers unfamiliar with thick British accents. Are subtitles really too much to ask? Will it soon be a feature only made available on Blu-Ray? That may be a stretch, but the conspicuous absence of optional captioning (and alternate languages) on DVDs has become somewhat unsettling.

The extras are also uniformly weak. A five-minute making-of featurette barely dapples into the production, or the nature of the two directors’ chemistry and collaboration onset. Hunsinger focuses on the actors while Hunter manages the crew, and according to Hoskins, they seemingly communicate “through telepathy” (boy, haven’t heard that one before). Yet Hoskins does manage to rattle off a couple good lines, particularly when he explains the therapeutic benefits of acting. “If I wasn’t an actor,” Hoskins admits, “I’d be a serial killer or a bank robber.” The directors also explain that they didn’t want all of Sam’s actions to be single-mindedly focused on getting ahead (mission unaccomplished). But wait, that’s not all! The disc also includes two additional minutes of interviews, which were supposedly cut from the previous featurette for the purposes of time. Rarely has a film with a title like “Sparkle” been so thoroughly dull.

‘Sparkle’ is released by Revolver Entertainment and stars Shaun Evans, Amanda Ryan, Lesley Manville, Stockard Channing, Bob Hoskins, John Shrapnel and Anthony Head. It was written and directed by Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter. It was released on Sept. 7th, 2010. It is not rated.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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