“Sparkle,” more than anything else, will likely be remembered as Whitney’s Houston’s last movie.
In the ’60s-era film, the late singer plays a supporting role as the strict and religious mother of three quality singers whose road to success is paved with tragic turns. As the feature reaches its conclusion, Houston gets the chance to shine as she sings for the last time onscreen. Her song, however, proves to be the one true highlight of this mediocre melodrama.
As the story begins, the title character (played by a welcome Jordin Sparks) enjoys singing but only in private. Her older sibling Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is a rising star, however, whose stage performance leaves men staggering after her. But soon enough, Sparkle gets a chance to shine as well and she joins up with both Sister and Dolores to form a Motown-style singing group. Unlike Sister and Sparkle, Dolores sees singing as more of a hobby than anything else. Houston, as their mother Emma, tries unsuccessfully to push her daughters away from a musical career.
The story starts out simply enough but seems to focus more on Sister than anyone else. Sister abandons her nice-guy boyfriend early in the story and begins dating Satin (Mike Epps), a charismatic but cold comedian. Sparkle, meanwhile, begins seeing Stix (Derek Luke), the group’s idealistic manager who helps the group get some highly-coveted gigs.
After an exciting beginning though, the story begins taking a turn for the worst when Sister’s romance leads her down some troubled roads.
From an abusive relationship to an addiction to cocaine, Sister’s downward spiral quickly begins overshadowing all of the other characters. And Satin, her violent boyfriend, shows how off-putting and obnoxious he can be in a dinner scene where he dramatically butts heads with Emma.
It’s here that the film wallows in melodrama that would be more appropriate in a Lifetime movie of the week than a big screen production. Many of the characters are reduced to being victims or witnesses. No one has a chance to build a truly interesting character because the focus is usually on Sister and her sudden personality changes. Those quick changes create another dilemma for this drama. Sister- smooth and confident at the beginning- descends too quickly into the dark world and drugs and abuse.
The same can be said about the group’s success as a whole. The trio sets out playing at local venues but soon enough, they have the opportunity to do much much more. At times, I just wished the story had stopped to contemplate how a lead singer succumbs to such a tragic existence and how the group became so successful.
Instead we are left with a tragic story that doesn’t carry with it the requisite weight to merit our interest. It is sad to watch Houston in this final film role considering how her own story ended. Unfortunately, “Sparkle” doesn’t provide her- or anyone else in this story- an opportunity to shine.