‘Glitter & Doom’ Review: As a Vibe, it’s Fun. As a Film? Closer to Fine.

‘Glitter & Doom’ Review: As a Vibe, it’s Fun. As a Film? Closer to Fine.

There’s nostalgic art. Then there’s art that seems like somebody thawed it after 30 frozen years. “Glitter & Doom” doesn’t yearn for some older time. It’s pure time-warp: a gay musical-love-dramedy that could’ve screened all summer at the old Philadelphia art house where I used to work, plunked amid the queer independent-filmmaking bonanza that helped make the early-to-mid-1990s seem like every gay thing was possible. The movie’s got an earnest, amateurish case of the feel-good gosh-gollies that would have made sense playing down the hall from movies as different (although not that different) as “Go Fish” and “Wigstock,” “Zero Patience” and “The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love” and — God help us all — “Claire of the Moon.” The two dozen or so songs in “Glitter & Doom” aren’t new (but aren’t based on Tom Waits’s 15-year-old live album, either). They’re by the Indigo Girls. Many of them are songs the Indigo Girls made a certain kind of popular during the years of that very bonanza. And what the movie does with them is call attention to the emotional mountain range of Emily Saliers and Amy Ray’s songwriting.

Is theirs music that ever said “engine for movie about young man who wants to skip college to join circus and falls for young troubadour who paints window frames?” Not to my ears. But ask me if I thought this same music would be throwing the heart-swelling uppercut it does in a blockbuster about sentient dolls. Both “Barbie” and the final sequence of a particularly exhilarating episode of “Transparent” use the same Indigo Girls hit (“Closer to Fine”) in a way that proves the power of this music to gather together, win over, wear down, wind up. It’s music that, because it’s so true and melodically harmonized, transcends what The Times’s Lydia Polgreen identified, with ardor, as the cringe of its naked feeling.

No one in “Glitter & Doom” needs a winning over. Its blood gushes with that kind of cringe. Glitter (Alex Diaz) is the juggling, jaunting, camera-obsessed circus aspirant. On the dance floor at a nightclub neoned to the max, he connects with Doom (Alan Cammish), the melancholic folkie. What ensues is nearly two hours of the false starts and second-guessing that romances use as sealant. The movie, which Tom Gustafson directed and Cory Krueckeberg wrote, weaves together various Indigo Girls songs from various eras in order to lubricate communication. Michelle Chamuel did the rearranging, and her seamlessly merging “Prince of Darkness” with “Shed Your Skin” and “Touch Me Fall” constitutes real innovation. She and the filmmakers have gleaned how much ambivalence suffuses Saliers and Ray’s catalog, how often and how intensely it calls on fear, damage and anger to negotiate with courage and hope, how powerfully that ambivalence resides in the way that Ray’s sharper, huskier voice can both lurk beneath and entwine the solar clarity of Saliers’s. I mean, the film’s called “Glitter & Doom.” To that end, Diaz is a brighter, more open singer than Cammish, whose voice has a spiked outer register.

This is not a deep movie. A lot of it isn’t even good. The images and story are chaotically assembled. The arrangements bring the music too naggingly close to the rounded, boppy, angsty gleam of certain 21st-century stage musicals. And if lyrics go wafting up the screen once, they must float by a hundred times. Then there’s the dialogue and … wow. “‘Holy’ has a more tangled origin than” — pause — “‘orange.’” “I think it’s time you sang me a song in D minor.” “The Ivy League snatched you away from the Ivy that hatched you.” That one comes courtesy of Ming-Na Wen, who plays Ivy, Glitter’s pressurizing C-suite mother, with an eye patch and busy prints, including one in off-cheetah.

Even so, the people who’ve made this thing understand what the Indigo Girls are all about. Whether the musical numbers are set in the nighttime woods or at a supermarket where Saliers makes an appearance near sacks of what I’m afraid is granola, this movie looks bright and is warm. It’s meant. Whenever somebody sings to somebody else, especially if one of those somebodies is Missi Pyle (playing Doom’s messed-up mommy), the shot hangs on long enough for us to appreciate the way eyes are met, to therefore feel hearts connecting. The quality of the moviemaking runs secondary to the qualities these people share, secondary to their basic innocence, even when that innocence is ridiculous. When, say, a forlorn Glitter makes a plastic bag of clown noses his pillow, the temptation might arise to reach into the Indigo Girls songbook for an unused tune and conclude, to paraphrase them, that he was only joking. However, I assure you: He is not.

Glitter & Doom
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes. In theaters.

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