Sparkle dazzles with classic Motown sound, colorful 1960s wardrobe, and impressive performances most notably by Carmen Ejogo and Whitney Houston. Even though Jordin Sparks plays the title character, her performance- just like her character as the youngest, bookish sister in a family of dominant females- gets lost.
Even though the original Sparkle film was released before the Broadway musical Dreamgirls (and long before the hit film starring Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson), this remake comes across as a watered down Dreamgirls. Similar to that plot, Sparkle is the story of a female signing group- similar to The Supremes- where the girl with the looks is valued more than the one with the talent. Unlike Beyonce’s coy performance in Dreamgirls, the “pretty one” played by Carmen Ejogo knows the power her looks have over men and she uses all of her charms to get what she wants at any cost while sticking up for her sisters at the same time. Besides Sparks and Ejogo, the third sister/member of the group is a strong, opinionated, wannabe doctor played by Tika Sumpter, whose directness provides comic relief in juxtaposition to the other sisters’ personalities.
In a much hyped- and unfortunately final performance- Whitney Houston plays the disciplinarian mother to Sparks, Ejogo, and Sumpter. Her unyielding parenting conflicts with most of her three daughters’ wishes and dreams, but at the same time is an impressive testament to a strong, middle-class, African American single mother in the turbulent 1960s. It is Houston’s commitment to the character as well as her polished appearance that is impressive yet touching to watch knowing that there won’t be more performances from this icon.
For all her amazing musical achievements, one of Houston’s oft looked accomplishments is her history of producing films representing strong, educated, nice, well rounded teenage girls who achieve what they want through faith in themselves, family, and avoiding temptation. Sparkle fits that same mold that Houston has crafted since Cinderella and The Princess Diary movies.
Although they are basically telling the same story, Sparkle is not as layered or long as Dreamgirls, but that is not a bad thing. It is enjoyable in its own right, with entertaining musical performances, some unexpected plot twists, intriguing characters, and a final performance by a true entertainment legend.