The first half-hour of “The Cream Will Rise” is your typical rockumentary, following diva Sophie B. Hawkins (best known for her early 90’s hit “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover”) on a 30-city tour of the United States. We get the usual backstage hissy fits and profane tirades about the record label, along with clips of Hawkins performing and few juicy shots from her first video, which was banned by MTV. These early scenes, with their scratchy Super-8 rehearsal footage and pretentious excerpts from Hawkins’ tour diary, will mainly be of interest to the singer’s fans. (Though there are a handful of “Spinal Tap” moments, including Hawkins berating her bandmates for their backing vocals during a recording session. “It doesn’t sound like you’re f*****g me at all in this orgasm part,” she tells them. “You’ve all got to be like one animal.”)
But first-time director Gigi Geston’s film takes an unexpected and uncomfortable turn when Hawkins pays a visit to her flighty mother in New York and buried secrets from the past come to the surface. Mummy’s offhand revelation of sexual abuse in Sophie’s childhood sparks a flood of emotions and memories that may be recovered or invented, depending on who is asked. Whenever Hawkins’ abuser is identified in the film, a sound effect of a slamming door muffles the dialogue, apparently due to lawsuit threats (though it seems obvious enough who is being referred to). Hawkins grows increasingly uncomfortable with the revelations the documentary is churning up, at one accusing Geston of “lifting the lid off a coffin.”
Hawkins bravely allows the filming to go on, however, and while the emotional turmoil on display is admittedly compelling in a “Jerry Springer” kind of way, it comes packaged with large, undigested lumps of psychobabble that can be hard to take. The husky-voiced Hawkins, her mother, and director Geston all share a similar scattered, touchy-feely way of communicating that will strike some as moving and sincere and drive others up the wall. Count me in the latter category and adjust the star rating accordingly, depending on your own tolerance for weepy self-expression.