It's rare that I vouch for a film greatly before I’ve seen it. I love cinema way too much to do that. However, that is not the case with Tri-Star’s “Sparkle.”
I loved the original film, so I was very excited to review this remake. I wanted to see every talent attached to this film kick ass! I also wanted to see amazing writing and direction!
However, when the film was over, all I wanted to do was crawl into a dark theater and rewatch the original version to remind me of the gem that the film is, despite the attempt of this version.
The film had some great moments, but the bad moments outweighed that overall attempt.
WARNING - spoilers within.
The film opens up to a snazzy Detroit nightclub in 1968. Jordin Sparks (Sparkle), and Carmen Ejogo (Sister), are observing with slight envy, a sweaty, singing man by the name of Black ( played by Cee-lo Green). His character is singing up a storm, and the club is jumping. The opening scene is big and sexy! Loud Music, sexy people, and smoke invade the scene. Black has the club's audience in a frenzy. The opening scene reminded me a lot of the opening scene of New Lion’s “I Can Do Bad By Myself” (2009). Just replace Taraji’s character with Cee-lo’s character.
After this amazing opening scene, we see that the two sisters are inspired, yet, Sister is disgusted at Black’s ability to rev up the crowd. The scene ends with Stix (played by Derek Luke) connecting with Sparkle. It appears that they have made a love connection at the nightclub. Literally, love in the club. I liked their chemistry in the film.
In the next sequence of events, we enter into the family life of the sisters. The film introduces the viewer to the complete Anderson family, which consist of Dolores ‘ Dee’ Anderson (played by Tika Sumpter), and the family matriarch, Emma Anderson (played by the late superstar Whitney Houston). Unlike the original film, Emma Anderson, the mother, is an entrepreneur, not a domestic servant/maid. In addition, the family is upper middle class. The family is an American family, and they are deeply involved in their neighborhood church. The mother is deeply religious. All of the sisters are in the church choir.
It is during this time in the film that it is revealed that Emma Anderson has had a failed attempt at becoming a professional singer, and predictably, her daughters now want to become singers.
Sparkle has a slow burning dream of being a singer; Sister desires to sing to create a new life for herself; and Dolores sings to make her sisters happy.
In a turning point in the film, while at a neighborhood bible study, Stix, while attempting to make a move on Sister, learns that Sparkle is a very talented singer and writer. After he finds out that Sparkle is a talented writer, he aggressively pursues a relationship with her.
In this film's version, Stix wants to pursue his dreams of working in the music industry. However, the film does not reveal if his character is a musician himself. In addition, I was initially confused by the romantic links in the film between Sparkle, Sister, and Stix.
Initially, it appeared as if Stix liked Sparkle, but then he likes Sister, and then he ultimately falls for Sparkle. We are then introduced to Stix’s cousin Levi (played by Omari Hardwick). Levi has a deep interest in Sister. Over time they begin to become romantically involved. However, their love is short-lived.
So now that Stix knows that Sparkle is a great songwriter, he creates a girl group out of the sisters. He gets Sparkle to convince the sisters that this is the best thing to do with their lives. The sisters then blast onto the music scene (fairly easily, despite a scene where they are picked on for wearing ‘church dresses’). With Sisters deep sex appeal and talent, they comfortably rise to the top quickly. Their success is instant! It is during this time that Sister is introduced to Satin Struthers played brilliantly by Mike Epps. Sister and Satin enter into this dead end relationship over her mother’s best wishes. The relationship soon takes a quicksand turn from bad to worst. The relationship ruins Sister. She soon becomes addicted to cocaine, Satin beats her (he is eventually murdered by Dee), and her personal life deeply affects her singing career. Sister soon spirals out of control, lands into prison. One thing leads to another, and Sparkle is then led to finally pursue her deepest dreams of being a singer.
This film makes you wonder a lot of ‘whys’. I am sure that the writer desired to create an enhanced “Sparkle”, yet there were a lot of parts of this version that did not fit well together.
The original characters were given slightly different goals and obstacles --- that were not very clear in this version of the film.
I did not clearly understand the relationship between Emma played by Whitney Houston and her daughters. I understood that she did not want them to become raunchy singers, however, the obstacle for her character was not strong, nor very believable. In the end, Sister ends up in jail for taking the blame (for Dolores’s murder of Satin). That is a very serious crime, yet the sequence of events that lead to his murder were very soft. There was no gradual build up to the murder scene.
At times, the film felt as if it was several films in one. Especially, when characters seem to not be totally committed to their goal in the film. When a character is committed, they sleep, they walk, and they have sex like their characters. Omari Hardwick’s character Levi, really brings this point home. Initially, he was this love sick man, and then in one scene he was this hard core gangster. I was utterly confused, especially, when Omari is such a strong actor.
When the film ended, I felt sad that a classic such as Sparkle was seemingly squashed into nothing more than a spark.
The film's breakout actor was Mike Epps. He took the Satin Struthers character, and killed it. At times you wanted to laugh when he was on screen, yet as a viewer, you then become to see that his character is not involved in a comedy. I left the film with a newfound respect for Mike Epps as an actor.
I wanted to see Emma’s ( Whitney Houston's) storyline flourish more. She was so angry throughout the entire film, and I began to wonder if her character was a singer and a hooker back in the day. Why the hell is she so mad? I wanted to know the juicy details! As a viewer I was not privy to her backstory. I wanted to see more of her on the screen, however, what I did see was good enough.
It was bittersweet to watch her last moments performing. May she rest in eternal peace.