If you are anticipating another Dreamgirls, then the Salim Akil directed film Sparkle may not quite live up to your expectations. There are several reasons for this, but mostly for that the plot is nowhere as emotionally invested as the 2006 hit. What Sparkle does have going for it is a variety of talent (seasoned and green alike), a surprisingly stimulating soundtrack, and a fairly no-nonsense attitude that isn’t afraid to pull the covers back a bit on issues of domestic abuse, racial stereotypes, and bitter familial relationships.
Sparkle is a bit of a deceiving title, as a good three-fourths of the movie is spent on pushing around the idea of the three Williams sisters forming a group and making money off of their talent. Sister (an incredibly confusing name, I know) as the star, Dolores -or “D” as they call her- as the somewhat unwilling backup singer (who is in it only for the money, as she needs it to go to medical school), and of course the titular character, Sparkle, whose uncertainty of her writing and singing abilities forces her into the background.
Soon after meeting Stix (Derek Luke), an aspiring music manager, Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) convinces Dolores (Tika Sumpter) and Sister (Carmen Ejogo) that between Sister’s star potential and Sparkle’s writing talent, they have a real shot at success. Unfortunately, the girls’ mother, Emma (Whitney Houston) has severe opinions on her daughters’ career choices, due to her own entertainment career ending with having “illegitimate children,” as she often said. Still, the girls’ sneaking out to perform at various clubs around Detroit eludes their mother until at least midway through the movie.
As the girls become more successful, they begin to gain notoriety, and often not from the most fantastic places – enter one Satin Struthers (Mike Epps), a black comedian whose somewhat slimy personality makes him both deplorable and intriguing. The latter is what holds the intention of Sister, and when propositioned, she doesn’t fail to dump her far less wealthy boyfriend Levi (Omari Hardwick) to snag a piece of the fortune that Satin has amassed.
This part of the story brings some of the more interesting pieces of the movie about (those issues of domestic abuse, racial stereotypes, and bitter familial relationships that I talked about earlier), and isn’t afraid to get real, though not too much so (as it is only a more mildly rated PG-13). Unfortunately, these seemingly endless (and somewhat unnecessary) plot diversions, deter us from the apparent “star” of the movie – Sparkle.
Not only was the plot more than slightly off-focus, it also lacked a sense of definite direction, which was confusing at times. While the movie ended in a way that I think was expected by the audience, the journey that got us there was a little misguided. In all honesty, there’s just not a whole lot of glitter to Sparkle. While the movie itself definitely puts on the bling and glitz, there’s just nothing about the movie that really causes the audience to invest in what Sparkle (the girl) has to offer. If the movie is named Sparkle, why are we not focused more on her and her story? While I understand that her sisters’ paths influence the outcome of her story, there wasn’t enough screen time attributed to building that connection with the character, in order to make the audience feel reason to care for her; instead, the time that should have been spent building up Sparkle to the audience is spent focused on Sister and her problems.
Another source of disconnect for me was the cinematography. At times, very interesting camera-work was presented, especially when revealing the tumultuous relationship between Sister and Satin; however, the disconnect between how those scenes were filmed and the rest of the movie made me question the overall aesthetic of the film. Truly, a second (or third) opinion in post production would have been beneficial in repairing some severe continuity issues, both in plot structure and cinematography.
Certainly these areas had their issues, but the movie as a whole largely recovered due to the truly lovely cast. While there were appearances merely for show, such as Cee-Lo Green’s Black character, the remainder of the performances was nearly wholly on par. It is honestly so heartbreaking to see Whitney Houston in this role, as it most certainly reaffirmed her multi-faceted talent. While her vocal range was not nearly as broad as in years past, her ability to transfer her soul and emotion to those who hear her sing is what made her such a powerhouse. All I have to say is that I am glad her last project was not only something that was dear to her, but was not an embarrassment to her memory.
While much buzz has been created surrounding Jordin Sparks’ first film role, I didn’t think it was anything fantastic (and maybe that has to do with why the attention was shifted a bit from her character?). Her performance was a little safe, a little eager, and undoubtedly those traits don’t disappear overnight; still, what was fantastic and spectacular was her sound. Her vocal talent most definitely made up for her somewhat awkward acting performance. If she develops her acting skills further, she would make a great pick for a role such as this in the future.
All in all, this film, while not the most fantastic piece of musical cinematography, definitely scored some points for just being a good movie. It was enjoyable for what it was worth, and definitely deserves a watch.
Sparkle – 7/10