Last night, I sat in a packed movie theater to watch Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston in Sparkle. There wasn’t an empty seat in the theater and people with passes were turned away once it reached maximum capacity which was about an hour before the screening was scheduled to start. As the local radio station asked some movie and Houston trivia, we learned the first person in line to see the screening arrived at 11:30 AM. Wow, I was shocked!
Sure, that’s a common occurrence at some of the most anticipated summer blockbusters, but its the first time I’ve witnessed that kind of excitement for a drama. Why were hundreds of people waiting to see a movie that I, if I weren’t reviewing, would probably have waited to be released on DVD to see? The answer: because it is Whitney’s final performance on the big screen and they wanted to pay tribute.
There are few people that are as talented as the late, great, Whitney Houston. The actress/singer passed away in February, at just 48 years old before her final project, Sparkle, was finished.
I didn’t know a lot about the story and thought the late singer was the star. While she’s not, Houston shines in Sparkle! The story, a remake of the 1976 original, takes place in Detroit, 1968. As the film opens, Black (Cee Lo Green) is performing in a Detroit nightclub. Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is giving her older sister, “Sister” (Carmen Ejogo), a pep talk before she takes the stage to perform a song written by Sparkle. Motown sound and girl groups are what’s hot, and up and coming music manager, Stix (Derek Luke), is there scouting for undiscovered talent.
Later, when Stix introduces himself to Sparkle and her sisters, he says “I know I’m the next Barry Gordy.” His enthusiasm and ambition, give Sparkle and her sisters a dream of independence and financial success.
But Sister, Sparkle and their other sister Dee (Tika Sumpter), have been forbidden by their mother, Emma (Whitney Houston), from pursuing careers in the music industry. Emma failed as a pop singer and doesn’t want her daughters experiencing the same fate in the ruthless recording business. None of us want our children to repeat our mistakes and Houston delivers a powerful line with, “Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?”
Each of the women in this story have a different reason for coming together to form the group. Sparkle’s dream is to do what she does best – write songs and sing them for a living. Sister, the group’s leader, is looking to get out of her mother’s house and enjoy the finer things in life. She will pursue whatever it takes to make that happen. Dee is planning to sing with the girls for some extra money while waiting to attend medical school.
As Sister begins to find fame in the nightclubs, she also finds fortune in Satin Struthers (Mike Epps), an arrogant, condescending comedian whose success comes from racial humor in front of white audiences. Unfortunately, Sister’s involvement with Satin negatively impacts her musical talent and family drama threatens to tear the group apart.
Overall Impression: The story itself is merely average but the performances by Whitney, Jordin and Carmen Ejogo are excellent. I tapped my toes, bobbed my head and enjoyed the singing with sadness while reflecting on the loss of Houston. If you’re wondering if this film would have sparked Houston’s come back, my answer is yes!
I was disappointed she only performed one song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, but it was heartfelt and followed by a round of applause in the theater. American Idol winner, Sparks, also delivers, both with her acting and singing. Carmen Ejogo was also very impressive, as she steals a lot of the spotlight with her performance.
There aren’t any explosions or special effects, nor is the film available in 3D, but you should see this one on the big screen where the vocals will sound best!
Sparkle is rated PG-13, opens in theaters everywhere today, August 17.
I received complimentary admission to an advanced screening so I could facilitate this review. All opinions are 100% my own and I was not compensated for this post.