Maybe pop divas should avoid films with shiny names. If we thought Mariah Carey’s meltdown during promotion for Glitter was bad, Whitney Houston’s death mere hours before plans to start promotion for Sparkle is something else entirely. While Houston’s outcome is much more tragic than Carey’s, Sparkle is no Glitter.
A remake of the 1976 film of the same name, 2012’s Sparkle is a bit of an update of the original’s storyline. Taking place in 1960s Detroit (as opposed to 1950s Harlem), Sparkle is the story of Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), the youngest (and meekest) of a trio of sisters who form a girl group. Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is the group’s sexy lead vocalist with a self-destructive streak, while Dolores (Tika Sumpter) is the brainy member biding her time until a college accepts her.
In her debut role, Sparks proves to be a bit of a mixed bag as an actress. The role of Sparkle requires someone who’s essentially a “good girl,” and Sparks certainly has the personality to carry that. There are plenty of moments, though, where Sparks seems unsure of what she should do. Both Ejogo and Sumpter, who get juicier characters, easily upstage her.
As for Houston, there are moments where it feels like she’s phoning in her performance as the mother of the three girls. All of her scenes keep her in a cool, controlled mode, which largely works; certain scenes, though, demand a little more fire than Houston gives.
Of the other actors involved, Mike Epps stands out as the sleazy Satin, a comedian whose appeal to white audiences comes from denigrating the behavior of black people. Satin is a thoroughly disgusting character, but Epps does remarkable work making him that way.
The movie’s updated timeframe makes for some interesting changes, chief among them being Sparkle’s role as the group’s songwriter – in the original, the character of Stix serves that role. The outcomes of Sister and Delores change in this iteration of the film as well, with Delores getting a beefed-up role and Sister getting a shift in outcome to her tragic story.
Watching the film can be a chore at times. Most of the notable scenes in the film involve musical performances, with the rest typically involving Sister and/or Satin. It’s not an out-and-out bomb; rather, it’s a promising premise trapped in all the melodrama of a made-for-TV movie.