Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead
In 1976, as an eight year old, my eyes were opened as I learned definitively that girls were way different than boys.  Stage one of this awakening was Linda Carter in 'Wonder Woman', followed quickly by stage two and the cementing factor of this awakening was when the family packed up the AMC Hornet, traveled to the show and I saw Irene Cara in 'Sparkle'.  An unrequited love affair would soon begin.  Where are you Irene?   Point being that the movie 'Sparkle' is kind of special to me, even though I don't think I've seen it since we all saw it back in 1976.  As it turns out this time disconnect is a good thing for this new movie because outside of Irene Cara I can't recall much of anything about the original so I was able to approach this new film from almost a clean slate, and to be honest with you, I enjoyed what I saw.

It's the late 60's in Detroit… post riots… pre MLK assassination, and Motown and the music is strong.  Right now we're locked in on three beautiful sisters, the talented by shy Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), the intelligent and no B.S. taking Dolores (Tika Sumpter) and the damaged but sexy to a fault Sister (Carmen Ejogo).  Sparkle has the dream to be a songwriter, and probably a singing star as well but she has to get out of her own way first, Dolores is aiming for Medical school while Sister just wants to get out of the house of her oppressive mother Emma (the late Whitney Houston).  So just about every night Sister and Sparkle sneak out the house… note these are grown women, not girls… while Sister gets on stage and performs Sparkle's songs. 

One of these songs is heard by Stix (Derek Luke), an aspiring music producer and he knows talent and beauty when he sees it, so he convinces Sparkle to write the songs, Sister to grab the lead and sex it up and Dolores joins in to round out the trio mainly
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to look after baby sister Sparkle and supervise her loose cannon of an older sister and the group Sister and the Sisters are born.  Just so you know mom is unaware of all of this since these grown women are still sneaking out the house.  The fact that Emma is a really heavy sleeper is a key component of this film.

So life goes on, Emma sleeps through everything, Sister and the Sisters are gaining in popularity, Sparkle and Stix are getting closer, and Sister has met the scurrilous self-hating comedian Satin (Michael Epps) who swept her away from the broke young man Levi (Omari Hardwick), although we're pretty sure Levi wouldn't have introduced Sister to the magic of illegal narcotics, nor would he be going upside her head.  Not that Emma would be aware of any of this because she's still asleep.

FINALLY Emma wakes up from her couch and learns what her adult daughters are doing and she's not happy, especially considering she's been down the lonely abusive wasteland of pop music's broken dreams, and she doesn't want her girls making those same mistakes.  On one hand she's right because we aren't too confidant in the path that Sister is wildly careening down, but then there's Sparkle and with her talent, drive, level head and not to mention the love of a good man and faith in The Lord that almost guarantees her success.  That 80 piece orchestra and full choir behind her is gonna help too.  How Stix paid for all of that is still a mystery. 

Directed by Salim Akil, working off of a script by his wife Mara Brock Akil, which is some good nepotismic looking out if you were to ask me, 'Sparkle' doesn't ever veer too far away from the standards set by the numerous rags to riches musical melodramas that we've seen before.  Thus if one is searching for something original or unique, we can't give it up to 'Sparkle' because it does tread along some really familiar territory and it does seem to borrow liberally from movies that admittedly are superior to this one. 

That being said, and as familiar as it may be, 'Sparkle' still manages to be entertaining, highly so, thanks to a narrative that doesn't over-complicate itself, high production values, solid characterizations and some fantastic acting performances, particularly Carmen Ejogo who pretty much owns this movie.  So dominant and overpowering Ms. Ejogo was in this film, if they had chose to rename the movie 'Sister' I couldn't have been too upset with them.  Of course this isn't to sell young Jordin Sparks short in any way, shape or form as she was radiant and vulnerable as the title character, and Tika Sumpter was tough and beautiful as the center point anchor of the family.  Mike Epps once again shows that he's really good at being bad and while Miss Whitney's powerful voice might've been leaving her as she neared the end of her life, when she was on the screen you knew she was there as she still demands your attention.  She will be missed.

True enough, 'Sparkle' isn't the most original story around… I mean it is a remake which in itself wasn't all that original… but with a simple story, albeit one that was mighty sketchy in parts, and some great characters… characters that were so interesting that it was almost frustrating that we didn't get to go in depth more to get to know them even better… not to mention the music which was implemented very nicely and not oppressively, 'Sparkle' still managed to be a very entertaining crowd pleaser of a movie.
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