SPARKLE – The Review
SPARKLE delivers plenty of camp and cheese and thick mush to win over the crowd that likes their movies big and sassy and overflowing with melodrama. There are elements of a good movie, and at least one stellar performance buried under all the clichés documenting the climb of three singing sisters in the late 1960’s.The tale of bright-eyed young black singers who desperately yearn to escape their unrewarding life of church choirs and make it big in the razzle-dazzle world of commercial R&B music may sound like DREAMGIRLS from six short years ago, but SPARKLE is actually a remake of a somewhat-forgotten film from 1977 (also named SPARKLE) that predates Broadway’s original Dreamgirls by several years. The original film took place in 1958 and was loosely based on The Supremes while the new one is set a decade later and refers to Diana Ross as an inspiration for Sister, the beautiful oldest sister who falls victim to fame when she uses a wealthy local TV star (Mike Epps) to get ahead. Sparkle (Jordan Sparks), is the younger sister whose songwriting skills take her from ingénue to star. Dee (Tika Sumpter) is the sensible sister with an academic future. The girl’s mother Emma (Whitney Houston) disapproves of their ambition and fears for their future.
SPARKLE has a sprawling episodic structure that’s a bit lumpy, but it’s driven by the excitement of its characters and a talented cast. Those expecting wall-to-wall music may feel a bit stiffed. There are not a lot of songs in SPARKLE. Mara Brock Akil’s corny, overstuffed script, which provides not an original moment or idea. It’s a glossy story with glossy characters and the second half descends into awkward schmaltz with drugs, spousal abuse, egos run destructively amok, and an accidental death. But it’s all so handsomely mounted with spot-on 60’s period details, award-worthy costume design and is directed with skill and style by Salim Akil.
As Sparkle, recent American Idol winner Jordan Sparks is unlikely to get an Oscar nod like her fellow alum Jennifer Hudson did for DREAMGIRLS, she does well enough for an acting novice and her Soul and Gospel singing (when she finally gets to sing) is phenomenal. Unfortunately, they wait until the final ten minutes of the movie to let her bust loose vocally. Most of the singing is by Carmen Ejogo who has the larger, more complex role as Sister, who goes through all the heartbreak, and histrionics one associates with a lead character. Although the film is titled SPARKLE, Sister is the main attraction, being the best looking and taking the frontwoman role, and it’s her downward spiral that takes its toll and the film works best when it revels in the dark side of showbiz. Miss Ejogo is sexy and vibrant, delivering a performance of sensuality and desperation (though the actress is just 10 years younger than Houston who plays her mom) and it is she who SPARKLE should make a star of. Shortchanged is Tika Sumpter as the third sister Delores, who constantly talks of heading off to medical school and doesn’t seem too interested in showbiz anyway. Though her matronliness is sometimes played for laughs, Whitney Houston’s final performance as the mother is solid. It felt like she put her all into it and when she performs her only number, an emotion –filled rendition of “His Eye is On the Sparrow” in a church, I suspect many in the audience may get emotional as well. Houston hadn’t been on the big screen since THE PREACHER’S WIFE in 1996 and I’m glad she made this one final film before she drowned in a bathtub last February. SPARKLE is predictable but it’s a fun time and I think its target audience will really enjoy it and make it a hit.
3 of 5 Stars