Where’s Kevin Costner when you need him?
Set in the 1960’s, three sisters form a Motown singing group, but fame has a heavy price, and Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is seeing her family fall apart right before her eyes. While Sparkle is writing her songs, it’s her sister, named Sister (Carmen Ejogo), who has center stage. The other two sisters are backup for her, but she is a troubled soul and could make all their hopes and dreams come crashing down.
Being one of the only three white people in a crowd full of black people, I went into this expecting nothing much except for good music, some good times, and also, something that may have not necessarily been targeted towards me. Thankfully, I got both with just a bit more than I expected and yes, it was for me.
I never saw the original Sparkle, and to be honest, I have no plans on doing so since it seems like this one takes that story, adds nothing new, but somehow still makes it work. I think a lot of that credit has to go director Salim Akil who actually generates a lot of nice touches here and there with rich human moments that sometimes ring true, and plenty, and I do repeat, plenty of great music to listen to and even dance along to. The Motown sound is one of the best and this film remembers it all in the best ways with a lot of of fine tracks you may have, or may have not heard before but regardless, you’ll be tapping your toes and fingers. Now maybe if the Motown sound isn’t your bag, then this probably won’t be the best film to jam around too but since it’s mine, I enjoyed that aspect of this movie. Hell, I already listened to the whole soundtrack so you know it got me going!
But once you get past all of the exhilarating and fun musical numbers, you get what is none other than your usual, predictable story of a bunch of gifted singers, trying to make it big but end up falling short due to some terrible occurrences. Yeah, it goes down the road you would expect it to within the first 5 minutes and it’s a shame because this film could have really shown off some real twists and turns that would have gripped me a lot more had they decided to go down the road less traveled with musical flicks. You get wives being beaten, race cards being pulled, felonies committed, and racial politics being discussed, and it just gets to be the usual cliché-ridden tale you would expect from a story about a bunch of singers in the 60′s and 70′s.
But at the end of the day, everything is predictable and obvious but you never once get left out the story. There’s a type of sensitivity that Akil brings to this material where he spends times with these characters, allows us to get to know where they come from, and where their dreams are headed. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is a rich character drama that takes time with it’s story and characters, but at least it gives us something to hold onto and make us root behind these people when their lives really seem to go to shit. But it wasn’t just Akil’s direction that made these characters work, a lot of that has to be because of the ensemble cast of characters on-display here that make every one-dimensional character, seem like a hell of a lot more despite what’s on paper.
American Idol hopeful Jordin Sparks does a fine job as Sparkle because as cliché and obvious this character’s motivations can be, she at least makes her appealing and cute to the point of where she’s at least someone we like to watch on-screen, even if everything she says and does is pretty much calculated. Carmen Ejogo kicked ass as her sister, aptly named Sister, who is the obvious Beyoncé of the group who’s live eventually starts to go down-hill once too much fame and drugs come into play. I’ve seen this Ejogo gal before in other stuff before but whatever it was, it doesn’t matter because she did a great job giving a character that is pretty two-dimensional, more of a heart and soul that feels battered (literally) and bruised due to all of her problems with breaking out of normality. Maybe I gave the character more to chew on than this flick actually did but at least she kept me interested and I wouldn’t have minded seeing a whole film about her.
As for the dudes in the cast, they all do fine with a certain somebody, once again, stealing every scene he was in. Mike Epps did a phenomenal job as the hated comedian, Satin Strothers, who just disrespects everybody he comes around and doesn’t do a nice thing throughout the whole movie, but yet, you still want to see more of him. Epps is one of these actors that can use that perfect blend of seriousness and comedy to his advantage, which he does in-fact show here very well, but there’s a type of intensity to him here as well that makes his character so damn scary whenever he’s on-screen. Yeah, the dude is pretty much your essential dickhead that doesn’t do anything pleasant throughout the whole movie, but with Epps playing him, it’s all fine and dandy.
The real shame of this movie was that this was going to be Whitney Houston‘s big comeback and sadly, as everybody knows, she died about three months after completion for it and what a freackin’ tragedy that is man because she does a great job here as the girls’ strict momma. Houston has never been an actress to write home about but at least she gives it her all and this flick as the momma that is never, ever allowing them to make the same mistakes that she did and you can feel her love and emotional support from her the whole movie. It also helps that when Houston belts out one song, she tears down the house, as you would expect from her and it’s just another sign that she could have really came back after all, and tore it down once again. Sadly, that did not happen and it’s a total disappointment.
Consensus: Sparkles features little or no surprises when it comes to its story, but features a great load of nostalgic music that takes us back to the Motown days, some fantastic performances from the cast that actually elevate these characters, and a couple of nice touches here and there of melodrama that work more than they should.