Do you like movies about sassy R&B girl groups who wear sequined dresses and power sing until their heads are about to explode? How about movies that paint a bleak tale of the entertainment industry, what with all the drugs and corruption and woman beating? If this all sounds good to you then you’re probably already familiar with movies like Lady Sings The Blues and Dreamgirls, not to mention the original TV-movie version of Sparkle (starring Irene “Flashdance” Cara no less) and are eagerly anticipating this latest installment in the “cautionary tale against being a woman in the music industry” genre.
Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is the youngest daughter of a failed lounge singer turned church lady (Whitney Houston in her final film appearance) who’s tried to instil her three offspring with ambitions for a “respectable” life. Unfortunately, her eldest daughter Sister (Carmen Ejojo) is a rebel who’s already run off to New York and returned after a failed attempt at fame, and while her middle child Dee (Tika Sumpter) has dreams of medical school, she’s easily swayed into joining a singing group when Sparkle, a fledgling songwriter, asks her. The resulting group, called Sister and Her Sisters, sees Sister as the flamboyant lead singer with Sparkle writing the songs and Dee trying to keep everyone in check as a seedy comedian named Satin Struthers (Mike Epps) moves in with less than honourable intentions towards their star performer. As the group begins to uproad battle towards a record deal and fame, Sister begins to implode and it’s up to Sparkle to find a way to stay loyal to her family while still following her own dreams.
The one thing Sparkle gets mostly right is the music. There’s no denying that it’s an emotional experience to watch Houston bust out a hymn with a full choir back-up and most of the songs performed by Sparks et al are catchy and era appropriate (the film takes place in 1968). The film’s main downfall is that this is a plot trajectory we’ve seen many times before and done much better. Sparks and her winsome smile are delightful to watch on screen, but despite playing the titular character, the movie doesn’t really become hers until two thirds of the way through, which is much too late to get the audience back from all of the doom, gloom and sour notes endured up to that point.