Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) can sing, she has the look and the songwriting skills that Taylor Swift would envy, yet she hasn’t found her voice. Her life and the lives of her sisters change the instant she meets Stix (Derek Luke), but do they change for the better? The gorgeous Carmen Ejogo smoulders as Tammy, a.k.a “Sister,” the sultry older sister and lead singer of Sparkle’s girl group, Sister and Her Sisters. Tika Sumpter brings life and strength to Dolores, the independent sister with her heart set on medical school.
Set in the 1960s, “Sparkle” fills the screen with fun wigs, amazing fashion and a toe-tapping, organic music experience. Initially the plot appears cliché and shallow, but the film progresses with twists, turns and a climactic payoff. The peppered civil rights context comes across as an obligation rather than an issue tied to their identities and well-being. Perhaps this is because the writers didn’t want that tone to overpower the film, but the flashes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and dinner talk about riots seemed a bit disingenuous.
“Sparkle’s” high note is Jordin Sparks’ performance as she (eventually) transforms from a timid church mouse to the dazzling diva. Though this is Jordin’s theatrical debut, we don’t doubt her tenure on the Broadway smash “In the Heights” (and who knows, maybe those “American Idol” Ford commercials) gave her a head start on her acting chops. The true commander of every scene is the legendary, late Whitney Houston who plays their mother, Emma. Her overbearing approach to parenting suffocates the sisters, yet Houston’s character knows the dangers of the music business and just wants to protect them. The quote “Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?” used in the trailer and the film takes on a different meaning since Houston’s passing. Nevertheless, the joy is in hearing her sing again. Even though her voice had a different texture to it, her belts and vocal runs exclaimed her trademark essence that is undeniably Whitney Houston. “Sparkle” delivers a range of emotions almost as impressive as Sparks’ range: Expect to chuckle, gasp, sigh and shed a tear or twelve. It’s a movie that has you cheering to the very end, hoping for an encore.