Lively musical numbers and Whitney Houston’s performance make up for sappy melodrama throughout SPARKLE
The late Whitney Houston exits gracefully in director Salim Akil’s satisfying and somewhat sappy remake of the 1976 movie musical SPARKLE, about a Motown-era girl group trying to make it big and break out of Detroit.
Houston plays Emma, the tough-love mom to the three daughters (Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter) in the Supremes-like singing group and she provides plenty of honest and heartfelt moments in a movie that frequently leans on the side of soap opera.
Months after the sobering news of Houston’s final autopsy results and countless reports of the 911 emergency call after a Beverly Hilton security guard found her dead in her bath during the 2012 Grammy Awards weekend, Houston’s supporting role in Sparkle is a poignant reminder of her acting and musical talent and the deep tragedy surrounding her Feb. 11 death at a young 48.
Sparkle (American Idol winner Sparks) reaches for stardom writing amazing pop songs but her dreams hit an obstacle as her older sibling nicknamed Sister (Ejogo), the lead singer of her group, falls to drug addiction and domestic violence.
SPARKLE, which inspired the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls, offers sparkly dresses, lively songs and enough melodrama for a likable diversion.
Thanks to Akil and cameraman Anastas N. Michos, Detroit and Woodward Avenue look great in the movie, from the nightclubs where Sparkle and her sisters perform to a booth at the popular diner Lafayette Coney Island.
Veteran writer Mara Brock Akil (wife to director Salim Akil) skillfully tweaks Howard Rosenman’s original story and balances the sweet romance and heavy-handed melodrama with flashes of musical brilliance.
Omari Hardwick makes the most of his scenes as the poor but well-meaning Levi, who falls for Sparkle’s pretty sister but is pushed aside by the wealthier stand-up comic Satin (Mike Epps).
Derek Luke is handsome as Sparkle’s boyfriend and manager Stix but Mike Epps delivers some of the film’s best dramatic moments as the deceitful Satin.
Epps’ highlight scene unfolds during a tense Sunday dinner with Sparkle’s family and the local preacher when he announces his intention to marry Sister (Ejogo) all while offending everyone in the room.
American Idol winner Jordin Sparks is all sweetness and naiveté as Sparkle, the talented songwriter too shy for the spotlight until the realization that she alone is responsible for fulfilling her dreams.
Still, all that’s truly special about Sparkle returns to Houston, making her first on-screen appearance since the 1996 drama The Preacher's Wife opposite Denzel Washington.
Houston helps ground the film’s many mother-daughter battles beyond sheer soap opera hysterics and when her character asks, ‘Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?’ one’s heart skips a beat.
Houston’s character sings the Gospel song ‘His Eye on the Sparrow’ at the end of the movie and while her pipes lacks some of her early singing power it’s still a thrill to see her perform.
Houston, who rightfully received a moving tribute at the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony, enjoys a better tribute with SPARKLE. It’s a wonderful thing to watch her bow out in fine form.
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
Cast: Whitney Houston, Jordin Sparks, Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Cee-lo Green, Carmen Ejogo
Director: Salim Akil
Screenwriter: Mara Brock Akil, from the story by Howard Rosenman
Cinematographer: Anastos N. Michos
Editor: Terilyn A. Shropshire
Producers: Akil Production Company, Stage 6 Films, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Running Time: 116 minutes
Rating: Rated PG-13
Release Date: August 17, 2012