screen gems

This long-forgotten 1997 queer roadtrip comedy starring Freddie Prinze Jr. is now available to stream

Image Credit: ‘Sparkler,’ Strand Releasing

Though it was initially met with poor reviews and a meager box office performance in 1999, the colorful yet dark teen crime comedy Jawbreaker went on to become a certifiable cult classic.

With its eclectic cast, distinctive visuals, and sharply acidic script, it’s the kind of movie a generation of gays would build their entire personalities around—and they did just that!

But before Jawbreaker, gay filmmaker Darren Stein (G.B.F.) cut his teeth on Sparkler, another movie that’s just as worthy of that level of queer adoration.

Related: ‘Jawbreaker’ turns 20: Director Darren Stein looks back on his cult classic

True to its name, Sparkler dazzles with a rough-around-the-edges charm—it’s the kind of edgy, bittersweet, low-budget indie that they just don’t seem to make anymore. Our hero is the big-hearted but sheltered Melba May (Park Overall), who decides to ditch her California trailer park for Las Vegas after discovering her no-good husband’s been cheating on her.

Headed to Sin City, Melba tags along with three handsome twenty-somethings (Jamie Kennedy, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Steven Petrarca) she met recently at a local bar. While the guys would rather ditch their older hanger-on, Melba keeps finding a way back into their lives, and their road trip becomes one that none of them will ever forget.

And it’s not just Stein’s queer sensibility that makes Sparkler a must-watch—there are some fantastic queer characters, too.

Image Credit: ‘Sparkler,’ Strand Releasing

Once in Vegas, Melba links up with her old high school pal Dottie Delgado (silver screen legend Veronica Cartwright), now an aging showgirl working at The Crack, a rundown bar off the main Strip. Dottie happens to be dating the bar’s butch lesbian owner, Ed (Sandy Martin, who you’d surely recognize from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia), and the film depicts their settled-in relationship with refreshing honesty.

Related: College roommates learn a whole lot about each other in ‘Boy•Friends’

And we won’t spoil it all here, but Sparkler also delivers a sweet coming-out story for one of its leading men, culminating in scene that’s unexpectedly generous and poignant. Even as the movie depicts a world that’s slightly askew and frequently unforgiving, it makes space for thoughtful explorations of its queer characters that feel years ahead of their time.

Oh, and did we mention Octavia Spencer turns up as a psychic hotline operator? It’s worth the price of admission alone just to see the future Oscar-winner in one of her earliest on-screen roles!

After its film festival debut in ’97 and a quiet limited theatrical release two years later (shortly after Jawbreaker hit theaters), Stein’s directorial debut all but disappeared. But specialty distributor Strand Releasing has uncovered this hidden gem, making it available to stream for the first time.

Watch the trailer for Sparkler‘s new 2K restoration below:

Sparkler is available now for digital streaming rental or purchase via AppleTV, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, YouTube TV, and Vudu.

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