Inside Out Toronto 2023 Review: “Glitter and Doom” Finds Its Share of Joy

“You lack inertia,” a friend tells Glitter (Alex Diaz) as the two lounge about a pool at the house of his mother Ivy (Ming-Na Wen) in “Glitter and Doom,” an observation that seems at odds with both what Glitter is actually feeling or what director Tom Gustafson captures in the energetic musical scored with the songs of the Indigo Girls. If Glitter isn’t moving forward, it isn’t because of a lack of ambition, but rather what exactly he wants to do, leaving behind a cushy life where he could easily segue into the lucrative line of work that Ivy would welcome him into or the much harder path of becoming a circus performer, making one of his specialities of playing with fire seem like a necessity even when he isn’t doing his juggling act. Still, in a production like “Glitter and Doom” where characters are defined by their movements, standing still is the worst place one can be, with Glitter waffling on his application to the Ecole de Crique in France where he could train to be a proper clown or simply look like a foolish one in America, biding his time.

You likely know where “Glitter and Doom” is going from its very first frames, but there’s a certain sense that you need to when Gustafson and screenwriter Cory Krueckeberg lean on the lyrics from the collective songs of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers to tell the majority of their story, when the comforts of a predictable narrative allow for more time devoted to the fun the filmmakers want to have. It isn’t just the lively arrangements of “Bitterroot” and “Get Out the Map” put together by Michelle Chamuel that bring energy to the story, but the way in which Gustafson and Kreuckeberg eventually position their characters, comparing the plight of Glitter to that of Doom (Alan Cammish), a troubadour whose best shot at taking the stage at the local club is to start out there as a busboy. Dismayed to find the job offer wasn’t the one he went into La Fountain looking for, Doom can be pleasantly surprised to stumble across Glitter outside, practicing for a routine and it isn’t long before their eating Thai food together after a night of dancing.

The two have enough in common to make their relationship more than a passing fling, both feeling beholden to mothers they no longer connect with as Doom ends up having to set up his mom Robin (Missi Pyle) up after being released from prison, but it could easily end up being just that when Glitter seems destined for Paris while Doom has his feet planted firmly in the U.S. Meanwhile, both are kept on their toes throughout “Glitter and Doom” when the music rarely stops and when Glitter builds a sound studio out of egg cartons for Doom to give him some encouragement, it seems to mirror the scrappiness that you can’t help but root for in the film itself, full of elaborately staged and spirited sequences that come alive out of passion and Gustafson seems to know exactly how to play to an audience, not only in terms of accentuating the dramatic beats with music, but knowing the value of a well-placed cameo such as Tig Notaro trying on a French accent or outfitting Wen in an intimidating eyepatch and a regal leopard print dress. It may not surprise when “Closer to Fine,” the duo’s biggest hit, is saved for the closing reel, but part of the pleasure is the anticipation of sensing that it’s coming and like the rest of “Glitter and Doom,” it’s bound to sweep you up in style.

“Glitter and Doom” will next screen at Frameline in San Francisco on June 22nd at the Castro Theatre at 3:30 pm.

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