Musical prodigy, Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) struggles to become a star while overcoming issues that are tearing her family apart. From an affluent Detroit area and daughter to a single mother (Whitney Houston), she tries to balance a new romance with music manager, Stix (Derek Luke) while dealing with the unexpected challenges her new life will bring as she and her two sisters (Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter) strive to become a dynamic singing group during the Motown-era.
Sparkle is going to be a special movie in cinematic history if only because it is the swan song for star Whitney Houston. This movie was the final one for the troubled star, as she passed away before it even got released. Though the movie has some moments throughout, it is heavily shadowed by the star’s death and the tragic circumstances that surrounded it. It is hard not to focus on that as the movie rolls along. If you are able to look past the natural sadness of the situation, you find a movie that has plenty of ups and downs.
The movie is set in Detroit in 1968, which is a purposeful switch from the original movie’s location in New York City. This is done seemingly to capitalize on the Motown Records connections and the racial tension of the time. Despite the time and horrible racism of the time, it is barely even mentioned during the movie. Martin Luther King is shown on the television and a few mentions are passed around here and there, but the movie largely skirts the edges of the racial tension of the time. To be honest, the movie would have done well to include it. Young black women trying to break into the music business at that time (or any business) would have certainly faced some hurdles that this movie never mentions. Whatever the case, the movie is centered in that time and place.
The movie is about a girl named Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) and her two older sisters. They are attempting to make it in the music business but they are fighting a mother (Whitney Houston) that does not support their aspirations and finds them to be out of line with her Bible.
The movie begins fairly well at a place called the Discovery Club. It is here that a guy named Stix (Derek Luke) begins pursuing both Sparkle and the sister’s group as a whole. He wants to be a manager and he wants Sparkle as well.
It does not take long for the movie to begin feeling rather cliché and made for TV movie like. The storyline feels like it has been done over and over, mostly because it has. The limited script hampers the movie. Fortunately, the movie is boosted by awesome performances by Carmen Ejogo as the older sister. She is lightening in a bottle for the duration of the movie, both as a performer and as a dramatic figure. Her struggles and performances are easily the highlight of the movie.
Another problem in the movie is the casting of Jordin Sparks in the title role. Though she has the voice, the beauty and the style to be a leading lady, she simply is not ready yet. Her role comes across as forced and it feels like she is reading her lines most the time. Sparks would have made much more sense in a supporting role to get her acting chops. Her singing performances are stellar, however.
Ultimately, the movie comes down to the same things one might expect from a period movie of this sort…you know what is coming far ahead of time but you still want to hang around and see it for yourself. Though the movie is not going to send me out to buy the DVD when it is released, it is not a movie that I felt ripped off by at all. The movie is worth going to see, if only for the final visions of Houston.
One particular moment of note in the movie was especially poignant when Houston sings in church. Oddly, you can almost see her slide right into the natural surroundings and her voice gives enough to show you the power and glory of a woman that had been through the fight. Houston is at her best singing gospel music, and her rendition of “Eye on the Sparrow” brought tears to my eyes. It is the single biggest highlight of Sparkle in my view.
Perhaps I might buy that DVD after all, if only for that song.