Dear Sparkler…(or “Are you there 90s? It’s me, John”)
Many moons ago, in a decade far, far away known as the 80s, then segueing into the 90s, I was a complete and utter video store rat. Yes, youngsters, say it with me now…”video store”. Before this current lazy, self serving, technology brat youth generation sent stores carrying hard copies of movies into the oblivion occupied by audio cassettes and landline telephones, the video store was my favorite American past time. The aroma of the cardboard cover boxes melding with that of the magnetic tape inside of the VHS casing gave me a greater high than any overrated, crushed and rolled cannabis plant or fungi grown in cow defecation ever could. It’s a feeling that adding movies to my netflix queue can never replicate, no matter how freaking badass of a selection it may have.
Now, obviously the horror section was my aisle of choice from the moment I was able to walk down it, but from the mid 90s into the early 2000s I was totally an anti-mainstream, indie arthouse film snob. I thought that my movie tastes were the definitive on what was good and bad and that I was better than everyone else because of this. (NOTE: I still am better than everyone else, only now I just don’t think it, I know it.) Being a teen movie fanatic from the moment I was catapulted out of the womb like a placenta covered creature from The Descent, any box art with a fresh, Seventeen cover-esque cast plastered across it immediately found its way into my chubby, dorito stained hands. And if it was an independent film on top of it? Automatically would it become a favorite. This lead to many of wasted $3.75 rental fees on atrocities that shall remain nameless and a young, teenage Johnny who convinced himself they were good just to maintain his superiority over the rest of the movie viewing public.
One such film, however, that was NOT one of said atrocities, was Darren Stein’s Sparkler. If his name sounds familiar to you then, congratulations, you are one of many cool kids to have seen his second film Jawbreaker. (NOTE: One need only to click here to relive the raging, engorged erection I have for Jawbreaker.) It had been damn near a decade since I’ve seen Sparkler. In fact, I’m pretty sure the VHS I purchased previously viewed from a Blockbuster all those eons ago may very well still be sitting on a shelf in my parents house in between The In Crowd and Drop Dead Gorgeous. All that I remembered about the film was that A.) it was about a group of young guys, heading to Vegas, who cross paths with a small town, trailer trash woman and her sometimes same sex oriented, aging showgirl friend, and B.) I had really enjoyed it. So when a DVD copy of it showed up in the mail, I was beyond excited to revisit the film to see if it still held up.
After FINALLY finding the time in my busy schedule (yes, I’m just THAT cool and sought after) to pencil in a viewing, I was pleased to see that Sparkler was actually even better than I had remembered. Being the filmmaker’s first feature, I was delighted to see how technically on point the final product was. From the Grade-A lighting, the creative camera movements, the crystal clear sound, and the shot on location production value, everything on screen is the work of a professional level production. These may seem like simple things to find appreciation in, but as someone who has watched COUNTLESS films with bigger budgets fail epically in some of these areas, I’ve learned to appreciate the things that the average movie goer never gives a second thought to (which, again, makes me THAT much better than everyone else, DUH).
While the teen horror veteran cast of Jamie Kennedy and Freddie Prinze Jr. (aka Mr. Buffy Summers) may have been why I initially rented it all those years ago, the film, without a doubt, belongs to Park Overall. As Melba May, a jilted trailer-wife, Overall brings all this charisma and energy to the part. The audience immediately falls in love with this sometimes dumb, but always lovable, loser turned hero. While not as mean spirited and dark as Jawbreaker, the script (co-written by Stein and Catherine Eads) still has plenty of twisted, quirky humor intertwined within the overall feel good story. There’s a cynical side to these well written characters that makes Sparkler a fun, well paced little gem that will hopefully expand its audience in the years to come.
You are pure 90s gold that wears its independent, cynical, redneck heart on its sleeve. While you may have the occasional weak moment, your strong characters and overall engaging story makes it a sobbing shame that most people have never heard of you, let alone watched you. Watching you again brought me back to those many hours in the video store that always brought a smile to my face.