'Sparkle' Struggles to Shine
Published: Monday, August 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 20, 2012 00:08
Executive producer T.D. Jakes rejuvenates the 1976 film Sparkle with a famous cast including Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston and Cee Lo Green. Sadly, this movie will probably never match their popularity levels.
American Idol winner Sparks makes her film debut as Sparkle Williams, a demure church girl with a talent for songwriting in Motown era Detroit. Despite the restrictive rules of her mother (Houston) and the challenges of fame, Sparkle triumphs.
Unfortunately, this development takes place in the last thirty minutes of this two-hour film. I spent most of Sparkle wondering why Sparkle wasn’t the actual focus. Instead, Sparkle’s sister, Tammy “Sister” Williams (Carmen Ejogo), emerges as the true star.
Sister’s sultry performance of “Yes I Do” at the film’s opening establishes her allure. Her magnetism quickly attracts the attention of several men: Stix (Derek Luke), Levi (Omari Hardwick) and Satin (Mike Epps). Stix finds the potential in Sister and her sisters, Sparkle and Dolores (Tiki Sumpter), and becomes their manager. Levi woos Sister until she succumbs to the glamour of famous Detroit comedian Satin.
Sister’s downfall bears a striking resemblance to Whitney Houston’s own problems, so it’s easy to understand how personal this film became for her. Frankly, Sister’s story is downright eerie in light of Houston’s death. Spoiler alert: In the original film, Sister dies of a drug overdose. She doesn’t in this version, which is probably for the best.
Already one of the most celebrated vocalists of our time, Whitney Houston now joins the esteemed echelons of actors with posthumous performances. Admittedly, Houston is no James Dean or Heath Ledger, but her role in Sparkle is far from subpar. As Emma Williams, Houston plays a mother who has been burned by the music industry in the past and desires to protect her gifted daughters from the same fate.
Houston’s only song in Sparkle is “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” and her years of hard living have regrettably taken their toll. Her voice simply doesn’t reach the heights of her prior work, but the song is still achingly poignant.
By this point, you’ve probably forgotten about Sparkle herself. Sister’s sexiness and Dolores’ sassiness outshine Sparkle in almost every scene they share; only when she is on her own does Sparkle begin to live up to her name. Unfortunately, those scenes take too long to happen. Sparks’ powerful vocals don't get a chance to shine until Sparkle’s solo act at the end of the film.
R. Kelly has updated the original film’s music by Curtis Mayfield, which makes the Motown hits seem fresh. All of the vocalists give outstanding performances; these are certainly a highlight of the film.
Sparkle undoubtedly faces pressure to be amazing, but Houston’s limited singing shouldn’t disappoint hardcore fans. The plot is a bit formulaic, but in the wake of Houston’s death, the film gains significance as both Houston’s last work and a cautionary tale to those who seek fame.