Movie Review: “Sparkle” Is A Diamond In The Rough
When it was announced that a remake of Sparkle was in the works it was pretty evident that a long and bumpy road was ahead for the production. The first being that the movie was going to be a remake of a cult classic that sparked the careers of Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas. The second reason being that although the original Sparkle inspired the creation of the hit Dreamgirls, this movie comes a day late and a dollar short (Dreamgirls was produced on a budget of $80 million and is the most expensive film with an all-black-cast in the history of cinema. Sparkle was produced on an estimated budget of $17 million) of the Broadway classic that made its jump from the stage to the silver screen nearly six years ago. While Sparkle does have its flaws and is certainly no Dreamgirls, it’s a film filled with little nuggets of great moments.
The movie follows three talented, yet different sisters coming into womanhood in the 1960’s with the city of Detroit as their background. The sisters, all singers, have a song to sing and stardom on their minds. The sexy eldest sister, Sister (Carmen Ejogo), is reaching 30 and figures that if her life is going to mean anything, a singing career or a rich husband better appear soon. Dolores (Tika Sumpter) is the smart, witty, off-beat middle one that’s waiting to get off the waiting list for her dream medical school. Baby sister, Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), completes the trio as the goody-two shoes sister that dreams that her songs and voice can transform her into something no one could fathom, a star. When they meet Stix (Derek Luke), a young man with Berry Gordy aspirations and Sparkle’s heart, he agrees to be their manager and secure them a deal. However, their dreams are stifled by their church-going mama (Whitney Houston) who was burned by the music industry in her prime. Under Stix’s guidance, the girls start on the road to stardom with Sister as their sexy siren lead singer. The trio’s journey changes course when Sister becomes entangled with a coke-snorting stand-up comic, named Satin (Mike Epps). While his white audience loves his jokes that unapologetically use black people as the punch line, his black audience ignores him. And in turn he has no problem venting his frustrations by using Sister as a punching bag. Their world slowly starts to fall apart and one sister ends up making the ultimate sacrifice.
Sparkle’s major flaws are that it suffers from a predictable plot and a mix of under developed or rushed moments. The audience barely has time to grasp a conventional endearing moment and the characters are denied their moments of redemption and reconciliation.
However, Houston and Ejogo manage to navigate through this fog and demand to be remembered. This movie will stand as Houston’s fifth and final on-screen performance. In previous films Houston never truly found her footing as an actress, but it was obvious she had with Sparkle. From the drug abuse, a toxic relationship, and hitting rock bottom, you can definitely match those instances with those from Houston’s life. But with the role of Emma you see what Houston had strived to become. You see her return to grace. There’s a scene where Sister confronts her mother about her own past of substance abuse. The scene is so intense and you feel as though Houston is arguing with a younger version of herself. This role was definitely therapeutic and authentic. Ejogo and her character shared a major common denominator with the fact that they both knew how to captivate an audience. Although she is being criticized by critics for her “overuse” of technique, it’s that technique that makes her stand out from the other actors. During the group’s performance of “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” she truly embodies the sensuality of her role and pairs it with a type of “coolness” that is effortless.
The film also shines with beautiful costumes by Academy-Award nominated costume designer, Ruth E. Carter.
Sparkle may be a diamond in the rough, but even in those conditions a diamond can still sparkle.