Movie review: Does ‘Sparkle’ shine?

Satin (Mike Epps) and Sister (Carmen Ejogo) in 'Sparkle.' / Photo: Alicia Gbur/Tri-Star

Before Dreamgirls, there was Sparkle. The 1976 original, starring Irene Cara as the title character, Lonette McKee as “Sister” and Dwan Smith as Delores, told the tale of three talented Harlem girls with dreams of superstardom. Their rise to the top was wrought with drugs, crime and heartbreak but in the end Sparkle — the baby of the bunch — overcame all odds and found success in the thing she loved most: music.

Sparkle 2012 is a remix of the same premise and it works well. American Idol star Jordin Sparks makes a solid feature film acting debut in the title role, while Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter step into the shoes of the troubled “Sister” and the feisty Delores. Set in 1960s Detroit, the sisters get encouraged by “Stix” (Derek Luke), who has a crush on Sparkle, to sneak away from their strict God-fearing mother Emma (Whitney Houston), and perform Sparkle’s original music with the hopes of getting a record deal.

By// Starrene Rhett Rocque

The storyline here is tighter, more explanatory and focused, and the characters have better development than the original script, which was penned by Joel Schumacher. Take Delores, for example, she was just the other sister in the 1976 version, but in the remake — brought to us by Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil — the med-school hopeful and feminist has an identity. She can take or leave a record deal but sees the potential money from it as a way to pay for her education. She speaks up for herself and fiercely defends her sisters, especially the mousy Sparkle who has yet to reveal to their mom that she wants to become the next Smokey Robinson when it comes to writing music.

Sister falls victim to “Satin” (Mike Epps), her abusive comedian boyfriend who has an affinity for cooning. He’s also the one who gets her hooked on drugs. Sister is at the center of most of the film’s drama, but the mother of them all — no pun intended — comes when Emma discovers that her daughters have been gallivanting around town, trying to get signed. A singer herself, she goes on a fervent tirade about being so strict because she doesn’t want her children to make the same mistakes she did. She was once a drunken backslider before she found Jesus.

This version of Sparkle is more faith-based than the original and despite the dramatic subject matter; there are some laughs to be shared and unique twists that make it different from the original. Aside from the sometimes predictable moments, the acting, as well as the singing, was always on point but that’s to be expected. Even Tika Sumpter delivers a good riff or two during the group’s highly anticipated performance of Giving Him Something He Can Feel. But it’s the late Whitney Houston’s solo performance of His Eye is on the Sparrow that is goose bump inducing and bitter sweet.

Overall, the Akils’ take on this classic film strikes a fine balance between drama and depth. Both fans of the original movie and new viewers should enjoy this solid effort.//