Making the Grades
Sparkle is the kind of story we want to believe can happen—a young girl with talent and tenacity overcomes obstacles to achieve her dream. Unfortunately a good voice isn’t always enough to command the type of attention necessary to make it in the music business. So once the singer and her sisters start performing in front of an audience, their Sunday church dresses just don’t cut it.
In one evening gown with a neckline best described as “low and behold”, Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) belts out an amazing number she has written. But viewers may be too distracted by the possibility of a wardrobe malfunction to fully appreciate her musical range.
The story, a remake of the 1976 film of the same name, focuses on three siblings living in Detroit in the late 60s. Despite their single mother’s (Whitney Houston) troubled past as an aspiring but ultimately unsuccessful soloist, the family lives in an upper scale home, even owning a color television.
Because of her own career disappointments, Emma restricts her daughters’ musical participation to singing in the church choir. But that doesn’t’ stop the girls, Sparkle, Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Delores (Tika Sumpter), from sneaking out of the house on a regular basis to check out more worldly tunes. It also doesn’t discourage Sparkle from penning pages of pop songs in an old notebook.
After watching Sister perform one of Sparkle’s numbers at a nightclub (in a sensual staging that hardly requires lyrics to get her meaning across), a budding musical manager, Stix (Derek Luke), approaches them. Hoping to cash in on the popularity of girl groups, he wants to help them form a trio with Sister as the lead and Sparkle and Delores as backup singers.
However as their popularity grows so does Sister’s interest in Satin (Mike Epps), a high-rolling black comedian that whisks the lead vocalist off her feet when he proposes marriage. But the pairing isn’t a good one. Before long, Sister starts coming to work with obvious signs of domestic and drug abuse that threaten the siblings’ future.
Still what may be most disappointing, especially for parents of Jordin Spark’s fans who want to see the American Idol winner in her first movie, is the fact the girls seem to need increasingly revealing clothing to ensure their success. Other concerns include the repeated use of illegal drugs and alcohol, frequent smoking, an accidental death and a string of profanities.
From an artistic perspective, the film suffers from pacing problems, dragging in some places while racing through other scenes without giving adequate background information to justify decisions. And while the three young actresses put in strong performances, Houston’s final film appearance is hauntingly predictive when Emma refers to her life as “a cautionary tale”.
Unlike the fame-seeking singing trio in Dreamgirls (starring another American Idol participant Jennifer Hudson), these characters share a flesh and blood bond that adds a deeper layer to their work relationship. Yet even these loving familial ties won’t give this script enough sparkle for many family viewers.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Sparkle.
Emma wants her daughters to see her singing aspirations as a cautionary tale for their own lives. Does the script justify her reasons for completely turning her back on performing? What other ways could she have acknowledged her daughters’ talents while helping them avoid the pitfalls she experienced? Do her actions at the end of the movie seem realistic?
Delores performs CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) in the movie. Get the history of this lifesaving procedure from the American Heart Association.
How does Sister treat her boyfriend Levi (Omari Hardwick)? What qualities does she fail to appreciate about him? Why is she attracted to Satin? Does her worry about her age play a role in her decision or would she likely have made the same choice at any time of her life?
Sparkle learns to face her lack of confidence. How important is that in comparison to her natural musical talent? What other qualities, beyond raw talent, does a person need to be successful?
Whitney Houston, who passed away in February 2012, makes one of her last public appearances in this film.