Glitter often comes across not as a feature film but as a series of videos spliced together. The constant, if not unsurprising, focus is on the central character, aspiring singer Billie Frank (Mariah Carey); everyone in this episodic film is a reflection of Billie, their lives of interest only to the degree that they illuminate her life. Spunky, voluptuous and talented, the girl simply grins her way through the vicissitudes of New York City's club scene in the 1980s. Yet, for all its clichs, Glitter's portrait of stardom is neither more gaudy nor less revealing than other films on the subject--although the scene where she writes and sings the lyrics to music her absent lover is in the process of composing stretches the boundaries of credibility.

In terms of plot, we begin with Billie as a child (the exceptional Isabel Gomes), watching her alcoholic mother (Valarie Pettiford) sing at a cheap bar. Mom, drawing a blank, drags Billie on stage where, lo and behold, she sings with masterful authority. Billie has a white father in addition to her black mother, but is eventually abandoned, kitten in hand, to an orphanage. Cut to New York, where the adult Billie is a struggling backup singer exploited by sleazy producer Timothy Walker (Terrence Howard). Enter handsome deejay Julian Dice (Max Beesley in sleeveless t-shirt), who sweeps her off her feet and, despite having to make crass compromises, sees that her fondest career goals are met. Julian is murdered hours before Billie plays Madison Square Garden, but, biting her lip and holding back tears, she carries on like the trouper she was born to be.

Mariah Carey fans will note that she has never looked sexier, while the smoothly integrated choice of songs, which Carey approved, is more representative than breathtaking. Still, her beauty and extraordinary voice are always shown to advantage, and there are few pleasures in contemporary music as thrilling as hearing Carey soar to a high note and hang there like a trapeze artist who refuses to fall.

--Bruce Feld