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I have a weakness for the use of good oldies music within movies; usually, I’ll give films that have good musical cues using classic tunes a break. But that is extremely hard to do when everything about a film screams cliché, especially when it runs a little on the long side, and that is surely the case with “Sparkle.”
Director Salim Akil (known for his TV series “The Game”) brings us back to 1960s with this far off period piece featuring a story about three sisters who couldn’t be more different emotionally but who all have a knack for singing. The three sisters – Sparkle, Dolores and Tammie (AKA “Sister”) – all want to find a new life separate from their overprotective mother Emma (Whitney Houston, in her last feature film performance), and they eventually do when their talents are noticed by a group manager named Stix (Derek Luke).
The curious little sister Sparkle (Jordin Starks, who surely has a glamorous edge to her) is the focus of the plot, trying to find herself both as a vocalist and a songwriter while competing amongst her do-for-me oldest sister Tammie (Carmen Ejogo) and well-schooled yet unlearned in life middle sister Delores (Tika Sumpter). Within these women is an absolutely beautiful cast, but up until the third act you rarely ever see them actually performing. The camera is too busy staring at all of the happily smiling black men who are watching them in awe while they sing – from Luke to Mike Epps to CeeLo Green, they steal significant time from these stars doing nothing but staring like dummies.
That being said, the soulful performances do escalate in quality throughout “Sparkle.” By the end the camera is finally focused on the star that it should have been focused on the whole time – Sparkle. With a smile that can light up a room, she should have been the focal point of the film – but instead Akil tries to fit ten stories into one: the amount of plot is tremendously overwhelming even for the two plus hours the film runs.
The temptations of the music industry are ever present – from the producers of Columbia records, to the unsuitable suitors of the beautiful girls, to the money and the drugs – every one of the commonplace clichés is perfectly placed in the plot so that you know exactly when it’s coming. As a colleague of mine mentioned, the point where I realized that not a single person in the audience understood the tone “Sparkle” was going for was when Mike Epps’ character is slain viciously with a golf club, as everyone erupted in laughter during perhaps the most dismal scene in the entirely overlong movie.
They laughed simply because this flick is for the most part a joke. Even a live church choir performance lead by Whitney Houston can’t save it much (but the lady next to me did cry). “Sparkle” sparkles with glee at moments while lacking any sort of a spark at most others – and as I’ve said before, inconsistency usually doesn’t make a good film.
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