This 1976 film remake is set in the 1960's, where three stunning and independent sisters try their luck at celebrity in a singing group. Their first of many hurdles however, is sneaking out of their mother's house. As heavily publicized, the late great, Whitney Houston shines a new light on the role as the no nonsense mother in her final on screen performance. And named to play the role of Sparkle, is Jordan Sparks, the American Idol winner. This pinpoints her debut role as an actress but, revisits being the last one standing in the movie, when her group is significantly narrowed down after being forced to face their priorities.
Sparkle glitters the road to becoming a star with the excitement of living one's dreams. The camaraderie of sisterhood, the hushed crowd creating a trembling silence while taking in the groups first performed notes, the background tension of their manager getting them on stage by the "skin of his teeth" and the art form that is created before your eyes as the girls discover vigorous appreciation, gives Sparkle it's charm and luster.
Many of the updates made to this remake gave it female empowering layers. Naturally, the look of the film overall was enhanced by a bigger budget and, with modern technology being where it is today, in terms of things like lighting, camera capabilities and angles. But, the remake has a lineup of new choices that also enhanced it. Some of the particular spotlights, include:
Whitney's role was that of the strict mom who wanted better for her daughters than to relive her stardom chasing past, that she found taxing and unforgiving. So the girls were forced to rebel on their quest to become stars behind her back. The previous mother played, by Mary Alice, portrayed the role as a much softer and less confrontational figure, who's humble lifestyle of a maid and nanny effected her daughters as an example of how not to live. And, although she loved them, it unfortunately paled in comparison to the time and attention she was able to give the families she worked for.
The 2012 Sparkle, Miss Sparks, dazzles the big screen as multi- talented singer, pianist and song writer, who's essentially an all around good girl. Her 1976 counterpart's prominent talent was only singing and snuck around to hotels with her boyfriend, Stix... Both sisters, Sister and Delores, have much more positive developments in their lives than the original characters that they portrayed. Satin, the bad boy of the film's charter, was given deeper roots defining what provoked his violent temper against Sister. Where previously, Satin's role hadn't even offered the decency of an explanation for what triggered his domestic violence and Sister never fought back. Additionally, Stix and Levi, also had much more positive outcomes than previously. On another note, unlike it's predecessor, Sparkle 2012 didn't focus on the inevitable hurdle sexism and racism would have added to a female group of color's journey to achieve stardom. But, this too added to the creation of a more empowering film, plus they switched the goal of being an opening act for Ray Charles to open for the Diva, Aretha Franklin.
Even with all it's additions to the original film, I still found Sparkle somewhat lacking needed explanations. The mother seemed a little unnecessarily strict to daughters in their twenties, especially towards Sister at age 29, by still commanding that they do their hair and get ready for bed each night. Their handsomely sized home and wardrobe seemed to contradict that of a struggling singing group. Delores wanted to be a doctor but was never shown studying. And, it would have been cool to see how Stix filled a large concert hall in under 24 hours with no modern technology.
I think Sister, played by Carmen Ejogo, stole the show in this film. Her performance was captivating with her beauty, dominating confidence, edgy boldness, charm and spunk. She shook fear's hand with wide eyes and introduced herself to a being she'd never met before. And, her shear enjoyment of playing the role of a musical entertainer came through the screen.
Whitney Houston's character as an over bearing, tired and drained mother was decently believable and even funny at times. Her scene singing at the pulpit was truly moving to hear. Maybe because as you listen to it, however, you can't help but to notice how different and unmatched it once was. But, at the end of the day to hear a legend of her caliber perform with even a percentage of her full capacity of talent, is still better than most and it still felt like a privileged experience.
Although Jordan Spark's performance was a little shaky and safe at times, I think she did a commendable job for her first, huge, featured role. And, as the reserved character, shaky and safe worked. Sparkle genuinely shined brightest in her singing performances where she seemed to be most comfortable and really came alive.
The actress, Tika Sumpter, as Delores, the middle sister, did an impressive job at holding down a strong and solid performance amongst the big named cast.
Mike Epps, who played Satin, showed his deep roots as an actor who can portray more than just the funny or cowardly man. He was superb in stirring up the scene as his character had audience members yelling in protest at the screen. And, the reliable performances of very attractive Omari Hardwick, as Levi and Derek Luke, as Stix, are always official.
Not exactly fireworks but definitely a lot of sparkle. With the exception of some unanswered questions it generates during the film, I thought Sparkle was pretty good. However, with Dream Girls, the seemingly logical movie parallel, the bar was already set pretty high with all its accolades and its 80 million dollar budget. (the largest budget ever to feature an African-American starring cast) How's Sparkle supposed get a flicker let alone hold a candle? Well, it captured my attention, with its encore song classics, the excitement of how superstars are born, and the way they confronted the irrevocable obstacles along the way. The acting was exceptional by a couple of the performers and above average as an ensemble cast. For what's more, it offers one other aspect that no other movie can, it's Whitney Houston's last film performance, and it's dedicated to her memory. Where else can you get that last Sparkle?
I hadn't originally intended to review PG-13 movies for this blog, because my side kick, Little Lee, 6, is too young for this film. However, I made an exception for this movie and decided to review it solo. I really wanted to see this film for several reasons, I've always been a big fan of Whitney Houston, it was released on my birthday, and the original Sparkle came out the year I was born. Nevertheless, after having viewed this film, I'm convinced that I disagree with the appropriateness the movie's rating. Due to the brutal domestic violence content of this movie, the drug abuse, and its sexual content, be alerted that it may be ill-suited for an impressionable, budding, adolescent of 13. To each his and her own, undoubtedly, in ranking the maturity level of your child, but I think it's more acceptable for an older teen of 15 or 16 years old at the least.
Check out more of my reviews at What To See PG