Directed by: Salim Akil
Premise: Set in the late 1960s, a trio of African American sisters forms a Motown-style girl group and struggles to break into the music business.
What Works: Sparkle has some potential in the scenes between the group’s lead singer played by Carmen Ejogo and a wealthy comedian played by Mike Epps. If the film had followed their relationship more closely and how they dealt with pressures of fame Sparkle might have been a better film.
What Doesn’t: Sparkle is a movie where everything goes wrong. The failure of the picture is surprising because its filmmakers have beset themselves with very modest goals. They aren’t trying to reinvent the musical or the Hollywood success story. In fact, the picture follow the rags-to-riches-to-scandal-to-redemption narrative structure straight down the line. This is such an entrenched and familiar Hollywood story that it is the cinematic equivalent of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the kind of thing that ought to be impossible to screw up. Yet, the filmmakers of Sparkle manage to do just that. The plotting of Sparkle is often stupid and the characters make a lot of ridiculous choices. One of the critical elements of the story is that the mother of the three sisters, played by the late Whitney Houston, forbids the pursuit of a music career but they sneak out at night to practice and play at clubs. That the mother would not notice until they perform on television, and then only by chance, strains the credibility of the movie too far, and Sparkle is full of absurd moments like this that constantly undermine the movie. The film is also dragged down by its acting performances; none of the actors in the movie are terrible but no one is very good either. The title of Sparkle refers to the name of the sister played by pop artist Jordin Sparks and although she is a decent singer she does not have much of a screen presence as an actor. The film co-stars Whitney Houston in her final performance before her death and although there are some ironic parallels between Houston’s biography and her role in the film she is wasted in the role. The lackluster performances are not so much a fault of the actors but of a script that does not give the characters anything to do and it arrives at plot beats not because of dramatic motivation but because it’s the next bullet point on the Hollywood boilerplate. The shortcomings of Sparkle’s story and acting might be forgiven if the picture had bold or accomplished musical performances but one of the stranger failures of Sparkle is that it is a musical that doesn’t have much going for it musically. For the most part the musical scenes are shot uninterestingly and the sound is often poor; watching the film in the theater it is quite clear that the music was dubbed in later and the actors are sometimes out of synch with the soundtrack. The underwritten story, lackluster performances, and poorly executed musical sequences make Sparkle a boring film that is a chore to sit through.
Bottom Line: Sparkle fails on every level of filmmaking. The picture is clearly intended to ride on the coattails of Dreamgirls but it comes across as a celebrity vanity project like the Mariah Carey vehicle Glitter or the American Idol-inspired From Justin to Kelly.
Episode: #403 (September 2, 2012)