Review: SPARKLE

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

 

I am a bit ashamed to admit that I have never seen the original version of this movie, and even more embarrassed to reveal that I had no idea that this movie is a remake.  I did very little research on the film prior to the screening and went in there quite cold.  After reading about the 1976 version of the story, and watching the 2012 update, it seems that not a whole lot has changed story-wise, except  for changes of setting, era and a few tweaks to the characters.  The discovery that this movie is a remake doesn’t really change my review much.  The film has a great deal going for it that should please audiences, but it also has some annoying flaws that I’m sure critics won’t overlook, and audiences may forgive.  In fact as I write this review, I face the dilemma of what rating to give Sparkle.  As usual, it is a question of whether or not the positive aspects outweigh the negative ones.

Perhaps the negative issues should be addressed first.  Sparkle tells a typical and overused story of a rise, fall and redemption of a trio of singing sisters.  Sparkle (the lovely and talented Jordin Sparks) has a gift for writing pop songs for her sisters.  The eldest sibling, Tammy, who goes by the moniker Sister (Carmen Ejogo), has talents for singing lead and using her sex appeal and beauty to great effect on any stage.  Dolores (Tika Sumpter) can sing well, but has her sights set on more ambitious goals.  This sassy and strong willed sister wants to enroll in medical school.  The girls’ manager Stix (Derek Luke) helps them achieve success on the stage and gets the attention of a record executive (Curtis Armstrong), as well as a successful comedian named Satin (Mike Epps).  Sister and Satin begin a volatile relationship which spirals into a life of drug and physical abuse.  This new development changes everything and affects the futures of this one close knit family of sisters and their single mother Emma (Whitney Houston).

So, yes,  I consider the synopsis the first negative strike against this movie.  Drugs, physical abuse, familial division, estranged mother/daughter relationships, and career changing drama is all material that has been used so much in similar movies, particularly in the biopics of real life artists (Ray, Walk the Line, What’s Love Got to Do With It?), as well as Dreamgirls which supposedly was inspired by the lives and careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes.  Now I realize that the original Sparkle preceded all of the films I mentioned above, but still, this update begs us to ask the question, do we really need another movie about the trappings and excesses of fame in music? As always, I question the logic behind making another remake.  Now granted, because I have not seen the first version, I honestly don’t know if this movie is any better or worse.

The bottom line is that the script by Mara Brock Akil based on the story by Joel Schumacher and Howard Rosenman has little new to offer audiences other than the usual clichés one would expect from this kind of story.  I also had an issue with some of the characters (not so much the leads) who felt like racial caricatures instead of real flesh and blood people.  Director Salim Akil does some fine work here, but makes some questionable choices with the way some scenes play out.  One particular sequence which is meant to be intense and dramatic made me laugh because the cinematography, editing and use of slow motion looked ridiculous and silly.  This certainly took away from impact of the scene.  A more straight forward approach would have been much more effective, instead of the more “artistic” one attempted.

I must say that I absolutely loved the performances of the cast, though. This and this alone is the reason I would recommend that anyone see this movie.  Jordin Sparks is a beautiful and talented actress and singer.  I have nothing negative to say about her work in this show.  I hope that this successful debut leads to more roles in both dramas and musicals.  It broke my heart to see Whitney Houston in her last role.  She truly is amazing as the girls’ mother Emma.  Her appearances are somewhat limited, but when she graces the screen, it made me sad that we will no longer see her on the big screen anymore. Houston has a breathtaking singing number that choked me up a bit.  I also enjoyed the work of Derek Luke, Tiki Sumpter and especially Carmen Ejogo.  Ejogo perfectly embodies the sexy, sad, and troubled eldest sister.  The real standout award should go to Mike Epps who offers a stupendous performance as the capricious comedian Satin.  I have never seen Epps tackle both comedy and drama within the same character.  The man is quick witted, uses perfect comedic timing and can pull off a powerfully dramatic scene wonderfully.  I’d like to see more of this side in other films.

So now that I am at the end of the review and must come to a decision on my rating, I think I will give it a slightly generous three stars.  Despite the clichés, the caricatures, and unusual directing choices, the performances in this movie are simply too good to pass up.  I will recommend Sparkle as a matinee or rental, because I don’t think it deserves full price ticket money.  Then again, one could do much worse.

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