‘Why would a god-fearing, over-protective mother give her virgin daughter the most revealing of red dresses to wear on stage in front of strangers?’ That was one of the many head-scratching questions running through my head during the wandering, lackluster musical Sparkle.
With flashes of mediocrity, the mostly dull Jordin Sparks-Whitney Houston collaboration of sorts meanders through the lives of a religious, scowl-wearing mother, her three singing daughters, and the various men that enter their lives with promises of fame and glory.
Loosely set in Detroit the 1960’s (the original songs, the outfits, and everything Sparks does smacks of modern day), Sparks plays Sparkle (that’s her name), a slightly shy but talented writer with a voice almost as good as her slimmer, sexier, and more outgoing sister, Sister (that’s her name, too). The three sisters sneak out of the house at night with some frequency, and each time they become more and more popular on stage, and their meteoric rise begins and then falls just as fast.
Well, not really – just Sister. She leads the group, with Sparkle playing back up and third sister Dolores. Sparkle begins a romance with Stix, the young beau who discovers her voice, while sister Sister finds herself in the sights of a rich and smarmy comedian who makes money off making fun of his black brethren.
It may be hard to believe, but Sister and her admirer, Satin (yes, that is also his name), do not get along too well, with drugs abounding as often as elbows and haymakers. If it all starts to sound eerily similar to the life of the late Ms. Houston, who plays Emma, then that might be the least subtle thing about a movie that is filled with cliché after cliché. Later on, Emma visits a haggard Sister in jail after a few unfortunate instances, looking through a window that might as well be a mirror.
Nonetheless, Ms. Houston, in her last movie, does have her solo performance, and she has quite a few motherly looks that will elicit laughs, especially during a dinner scene where she meets Sister’s fiancé.
The predictability of the movie doesn’t hurt as much as the lack of focus. Sparkle is the titular singer, but she takes a back seat due to a plot that creates stories around every character. Sparks also looks completely uninterested in acting, instead looking like she is just waiting around for her chance to sing.
It is a movie (read: Lifetime special) that is mostly about Sister: her talent, and her demise. Sometimes it’s about an angry mother (angry for no reason it would seem), sometimes it’s about a love-struck, poor wannabe husband of Sister, and sometimes it’s just about a kooky cast of strange supporting characters, including a very odd and distracting albino looking fellow with corn rows who follows around Satin and says nothing.
There are also a couple moments where it may or may not be The Matrix, as some of the characters run and fall in super slow motion.
Of course Sparks/Sparkle does get a chance to sing on her own, showcasing the talent that made her famous (her voice, not the aforementioned risqué dress that features prominently her wondrous cleavage).
It is a melodramatic finale to a melodramatic film, one filled with a chorus of clichés (her voice seems to stay the same whether or not she sings into a microphone), one that looks very similar to a concert you might see today—say from an American Idol contestant—one that takes far too long to get to, and unfortunately isn’t over soon enough.