[Review] – Sparkle

4 Sep

Title: Sparkle
Year: 2012
Director: Salim Akil
Writers: Mara Brock Akil and Howard Rosenman, based on the film by Joel Schumacher and Howard Rosenman
Starring: Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick, Cee Lo Green
MPAA Rating: PG-13, mature thematic content involving domestic abuse and drug material, and for some violence, language and smoking
Runtime: 116 min
IMDb Rating: 4.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Metacritic: 55

If Sparkle will be remembered for anything a year from now it will be, no doubt, only because it served as the final piece of work the great Whitney Houston gave us before she passed away this February. Granted, the best work she gave us was in music and was given to us decades ago, but still, this would serve as the last thing we’d ever see the legend in. And while the film isn’t really good, mostly because it’s just annoyingly melodramatic and horribly formulaic, I did think that, at least musically, the film succeeded in entertaining, and ultimately I did like it as a send-off to one of the all-time greats, even if I didn’t like the film itself.

The film is a remake of the 1976 film of the same name by Sam O’Steen, which was in turn inspired by The Supremes. That film took place in Harlem while this one is set in Detroit during the 60’s when the country was feeling the Motown era at its fullest. The lead titular character is played by American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, making her film debut here, and Ms. Houston plays her single mother. Sparkle and her two sisters, Sister and Dee, form a girl group that starts getting a lot of attention, and we see her balancing the prospect of impending fame with a budding romance and an increasingly unstable family environment.

Like I said, the whole thing from beginning to end is just full of clichés and feels recycled, and no doubt it will only be remembered for featuring Ms. Houston’s final performance, but I do think quite a few parts of it were actually rather entertaining and that some people may like it a fair bit, I just wasn’t one of them. The thing that remakes must do to make themselves worthy of even existing is doing something fun with the source material. This one changes the place to Detroit and the time to a few years after the original film, and it adds a couple of new songs to the ones that were written for the original (performed by Aretha Franklin on a best-selling soundtrack). But in the end everything really is pretty much the same, and nearly four decades have gone by, so it’s no surprise the material’s gotten old.

I do have to commend director Salim Akil a bit, though. The man definitely cared about this project and even though the direction is mostly flat a few scenes, mostly the music-centered ones, do stand out because of his treatment of them and because of how nicely they were shot by Anastas N. Michos, but the script is just real shoddy. I mean, every little thing here is just so obvious, and there’s not even the hint of subtlety in any scene and the character development is thrown at your face, pretty much yelling “Look something important is happening in this character’s journey!” and I just couldn’t get into it. It also doesn’t help that Jordin Sparks, while a fine singer and a charming enough girl, isn’t really meant to be an actress.

Now, we do have to talk about Whitney Houston. Not about her legacy because that’s been talked about enough by now, and because I can’t add anything of value to the conversation or than to redirect you to YouTube so figure out just what a true force of nature that woman was. Here she’s acting as this overbearing single mother who once tried to have a musical career herself, and she’s the typical overprotective mother with nothing special about her performance, because, really, she wasn’t a good actress at all and only ever appeared in a handful of films. But then you see her belt “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and you will be in honest awe; this is why this woman was so special, one of the best ten voices that’s ever graced our planet.

This is just kind of like Dreamgirls lite, and this is coming from someone that didn’t think as highly of that Bill Condon movie as many others did. I just thought that the dialogue was so boring, it gave us a lot of information about the relationships of these characters but it didn’t allow these characters to grow at all, and as such I had no idea why I should have to care about anything that happened to them. It’s a serviceable enough movie, I guess, but seeing as to how it’s a remake of a film that wasn’t all that great to begin with, you just have to wonder why the hell they even bothered with this.

Sparkle is the kind of film that is okay with treading over super-worn territory, that likes to go on auto-pilot checking off the boxes required to make this kind of film, and that makes the storytelling aspect of it just plain suck. And even though the director is really good at showcasing the musical numbers (and decidedly less so when focussing on the domestic side of things) the film just never finds its footing, relying on stars that, while they sure as hell can sing a pretty tune, they can’t really act all that much. But then again, people will see this one just for Whitney Houston, and again, just for the song she gets to sing, that might be worth it.

Grade: C

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