Directed By Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter
Starring Shaun Evans, Stockard Channing, Amanda Ryan and Bob Hoskins.
Sorry, Twilight fans; despite the title, Sparkle isn’t a cash-in movie about the life and times of Ed Cullen’s dermatologist. Roguish young charmer Sam Sparks (Shaun Evans) moves from Liverpool to London with his aspiring singer mother Jill (Lesley Manville) in search of a new life and a meaningful career. Quickly finding a flat and a waiting job thanks to kindly landlord Vincent (Bob Hoskins), Sam meets the eye of hard-nosed older businesswoman Sheila (Stockard Channing) while working a PR party and embarks on a fling, inadvertently sleeping his way into a job as her assistant. However, when Sam falls for beautiful and idealistic young activist Kate (Amanda Ryan), he’s stuck with the dilemma of how to end his relationship with his boss, keep his job and hang onto his new girlfriend in the process.
A simple, sweet and refreshingly old-fashioned rom-com, Sparkle‘s focus is graciously on character and dialogue rather than tired comedic set-pieces, low-brow gags and sappy melodrama. It’s helpful, then, that writer-director team Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter are a dab hand at crafting real, likeable characters and witty, natural dialogue, and even more handy that they’ve assembled a fantastic cast to enliven their roles with an abundance of warmth and charm. Stockard Channing, Amanda Ryan and Lesley Manville all deliver incredible performances, while Anthony Head’s perfectly dry deadpan wit elevates what should be a stock, camp gay caricature into bona fide scene-stealer. The film unquestionably belongs to Bob Hoskins though, who buries his usual bulldog ferocity and offers a gentle performance that’s wonderfully sweet and incredibly touching.
The only real problem is that Huntsinger and Hunter do such a great job of creating such a well-developed supporting cast of likeable characters that Sam seems a lesser character by comparison – he’s constantly skirting the fine line between flawed, charming rogue and utter, despicable douchebag and too often landing on the wrong side of the fence. As a protagonist who lies, cheats and often proves himself to be a deceitful, opportunistic schemer, he’s always in serious risk of completely losing the audience’s loyalty, especially as even guarded ball-buster Sheila seems victimised and more sympathetic by contrast. Thankfully though, Shaun Evans has just enough charm as an actor to retain our sympathies and it’s to the writer/director duo’s considerable credit that Sam remains a likeable character with a redemptive arc free from schmaltz.
Sparkle is by no means a revolutionary film, nor does it make any attempts to redefine the rom-com. It is, however, a wonderfully sweet and endearing little film populated with fantastic performances, an intelligent, funny and well-written script and a delightfully gentle charm. It might not be an utterly astonishing film, but fans of touching romantic comedies with a wealth of character and heart would do well to seek out this little gem.
On the DVD:
Sparkle isn’t a high-budget film that exudes a distinctive visual flair, but the transfer is as clear and flawless as one would expect, while the 5.1 Dolby Digital track is sedate, but clear as a bell.
Extras-wise, the disc holds a couple of short, but mildly informative behind-the-scenes interview features with the writer-directors and the cast. Also present is the film’s trailer, though it’s best to skip that until after you’ve seen the movie – it’s one of those unfortunate ‘spell out the entire movie’ giveaway trailers.
Sparkle is available to buy on DVD in the UK on 16th August 2010.