The story itself is compelling enough to hold the viewer’s interest, but the addition of Motown-style music and costuming, along with glitzy nightclub scenes interspersed with the down-to-earth lives of three sisters and their mother make for an entertaining film.
The new version of “Sparkle” is an “ode to the genius of the original 1976 movie, modified to the music, fashion, lingo, and historical effects of the 1960s, while maintaining to the emotional clarity and spirit of the earlier classic,” say the movie’s filmmakers.
Now, in its opening weekend, the film emerges as a reminder of the comeback that could have been if Houston were still alive today.
“Sparkle” tells the story of a 19-year-old innocent young woman growing up in late 1960′s Detroit, who dreams of becoming a music star. Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Dee (Tika Sumpter) are sisters who love each other fiercely, but each have their own ambitions. When they form a girl group and set out to take the music world by storm, the harsh realities of the spotlight take their toll on the girls and threaten to tear apart the tight knit family, which also includes their less than supportive mother (Whitney Houston). The film also stars Derek Luke,Mike Epps, Omari Hardwick and CeeLo Green.
The movie was engineered as a vehicle for pop starlet Jordin Sparks. But it serves as a curtain call for Whitney Houston, who postponed her tragic self-destruction long enough to deliver one last reminder of a career that might have been.
When the late Houston isn’t upstaging the title character, the bombshell Carmen Ejogo (“The Brave One”) is. As the sultry siren “Sister,” lead singer to Sparkle, Ms. Sparks’ songwriting sibling, Ms. Ejogo makes sure nobody is watching Sparkle whenever these three sisters (Tika Sumpter is the third) take the stage. Ms. Ejogo plays this prodigal dish as sex incarnate, a gold digger with bad decisions to burn.
Sparkle needs Sister to front her group, to get across her songs. It’s 1968 Detroit, and if they can get noticed, they might get Berry Gordy to sign them to Motown Records.Stix (Derek Luke) is the fast-talking promoter who might make that happen. And he might spark to Sparkle, too.
“My momma’s got a gun,” Sparkle warns him. But that’s not nearly as scary as Houston’s fearsome scowl. She keeps the reins tight on her girls. Sparkle has a future. Dolores (Ms. Sumpter), the curt, spunky one, is headed to medical school. Maybe Sister can marry a doctor.
Men chase the girls, including a groundbreaking comic, given a sold-out-and-he-knows-it edge by Mike Epps. The girls chase their dreams. Their momma, who had her own big voice and big plans once, lectures them: “Was my life not a cautionary enough tale for you?”
The new songs don’t clash terribly with the vintage music from the era included on the soundtrack. There are anachronisms in the stage act and costumes (way too racy for the era) and the dialogue. But for the most part, this is a perfectly serviceable version of a time-worn tale, entirely too long.
This production by the preacher T.D. Jakes, who parlayed his ministry into a movie-producing career (“Jump the Broom” came from the same team), is almost a half hour longer than the ’76 “Sparkle.”
Ms. Sparks is a perfectly good pop singer in the modern post-Whitney histrionic mold. But she lacks screen charisma. We should feel more when Stix offhandedly tells her that he sees her as “backup,” not the lead. Teamed up with Ms. Sumpter (great timing) and Ms. Ejogo (gorgeous, vulnerable), Ms. Sparks shrinks into the background the way Selena Gomez did in her first “adult” role.
With a name like Sparks and a title like “Sparkle,” that’s what you expect her to deliver. However, she is over her head in this one and the only thing that sparkles is the brilliance that Houston brings to the screen.
Houston’s performance clearly stood out, although not Oscar material unless her field of competition proves to be weak.
However, the analogy was not meant to take anything from Houston’s performance which proved that this could have been the first step not merely in a comeback but in a major re-invention. as one review accurately stated, “She had the instincts of a superb character actress.”
The most emotional moments in ‘Sparkle’ come from the fact that Whitney Houston is no longer with us, a reality that imbues her words and performance with a gravitas and meaning they might not have had if she was still with us. Unquestionably, it is moving, even rousing, to watch Houston performing the gospel hymn “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” but the overall writing and character development in ‘Sparkle’ is so poor that trying to connect emotionally to this film is like trying to connect to a WiFi signal with a rotary telephone.