The movie “Sparkle” is garnering a fair amount of attention for containing the last on-screen performance by the late, great Whitney Houston.
However, in the future, it may be better remembered as the film that launched the acting career of “American Idol” winner Jordan Sparks.
Sparks isn’t a particularly great actress, but she has a stunning smile, the camera loves her and her acting style is earnest and straightforward. Countless careers in Hollywood have been based on less.
The movie itself is a remake of the 1976 movie “Sparkle” and is a fairly standard tale of the triumphs and tragedies that accompany a rise to musical stardom.
Set in Detroit in the 1960s, “Sparkle” is the story of three sisters who sneak out of the home of their watchful and domineering mother (Houston) and become a nightclub sensation.
Sparks plays the titular Sparkle, the youngest of the sisters and the one who writes the songs and dreams the biggest dreams. Middle sister Dolores (scene-stealer Tika Sumpter) agrees to join the group, but only until she gets accepted into medical school.
The star of the group initially turns out to be the ambitious and petulant Sister (Carmen Ejogo), who oozes sex appeal.
Thanks to the efforts of their eager young manager, Stix (Derek Luke), the girls hit the stage as Sister and the Sisters and take Motown by storm.
Of course, things begin to unravel when Sister takes up with high-rolling comedian Satin (Mike Epps), and the sisters wind up following three very distinct paths.
“Sparkle” is a little rough around the edges, which probably has to do with the relative greenness of director Salim Akil, who outside of television has only one feature film (last year’s “Jumping the Broom”) to his credit.
As unpolished as it is, “Sparkle” does have some flashes of brilliance, like the tense little scene where Satin meets the family and verbally spars with the local pastor or another scene where Sparkle pitches her songwriting ability to a record studio exec.
Really, though, “Sparkle” is at its best when someone is singing. Kicking right off with Cee-Lo Green sporting a Little Richard hairdo and belting out righteous tunes as a nightclub performer named Big Black, the musical numbers mesh perfectly with the story and never once drag down the pacing of the film.
By mixing classic, vintage tunes with songs written by Curtis Mayfield for the 1976 film and original tracks penned by R. Kelly, the soundtrack is solid and the performances are all fun to watch.
There is a melancholy that permeates the film that comes from knowing that Houston passed away only a few months after shooting “Sparkle,” essentially becoming a casualty of the very same lifestyle of fame, drugs, and turmoil that the movie offers up as a cautionary tale.
Houston seems to have had it together though while making this movie; her performance is unremarkably solid. She just looks tired. The glowing vitality that shone on her face early in her career is nowhere to be found.
Even during Houston’s only vocal performance, the gospel song, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” the beautiful and rousing number still falls well short of the heights she reached when she was the greatest voice of her generation. But while Houston’s story has been written, it will be interesting to see where Sparks’ career goes from here.
She doesn’t have the chops to become a superstar based on her voice alone, but by choosing the right projects she does have the talent and personality to have a long and successful Hollywood adventure.
When all is said and done, “Sparkle” might be one of those rare films that mark the very beginning and the very end of two special careers.
“Sparkle” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving domestic abuse and drug material, and for some violence, language, and smoking.