Thursday, August 16, 2012

Film Review: 'Sparkle'

Wednesday night I saw an advance screening of “Sparkle” at the Regal Royal Palm Stadium 18 in Royal Palm Beach, Fla. I knew what to expect, and I didn’t know what to expect. Let me explain.
Produced by Stage 6 Films and released by Sony/Tri Star "Sparkle," directed by Salim Akil ("Jumping the Broom"), is a remake of the 1976 film by Sam O’Steen inspired by The Supremes, starring Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas.  I expected to see the story of main character, Sparkle and her two sisters, Sister and Delores, attempt to pursue a music career amongst the pitfalls of the entertainment industry. Being a remake I expected there might be changes to the storyline. For example, the 1976 version is set in Harlem, N.Y. in the 1950s, the 2012 version in an affluent area of Detroit, Mich. during the Motown era in the 1960s.  And the soundtrack, with the songs composed and produced by Curtis Mayfield, also included new music, much by R. Kelly, the executive music consultant. 
In the 2012 version, I did not know what to expect in terms of the performances of the two headliners, one’s first and the other’s final performance. “Sparkle” is the late Ms. Whitney Houston’s final film performance, and “American Idol” winner, Pop/R&B singer Jordin Sparks’ first performance in a lead role in a feature film. 
Houston, who died Feb. 11, 2012 at the age of 48, hasn’t been seen by audiences on the silver screen since her role as Julia Biggs in “The Preacher’s Wife” in 1996. For Houston fans, like me, “Sparkle” was to be the debut of her new life, so to speak.  To see her in her first scene in “Sparkle,” with rollers in her hair, a scarf tied around her head and in a robe and slippers opening the door to the bedroom of her daughters knowing they were up to shenanigans, made me gasp and say softly, “I miss you, Whitney.” Since her death, especially right afterwards, we have seen constant images of the multiple Grammy Award-winning artist and actress from her triumphant recording years, to images taken during her struggles with addiction. Seeing her in a film she was excited about and even serving as executive producer, was like seeing her without a filter of controversy.
She is convincing as Emma, a strong-willed religious single mother who wanted to steer her daughters in the right direction, keeping them away from the perils of the entertainment industry, ultimately not wanting them to make the same mistakes she did. Houston has “the look” down pat. As the daughter of a black mother, I know the look well; the look, which speaks volumes without saying a word. Houston is not in many scenes, though, the ones where she is present, she is dominant. There is a scene where she sings the Gospel hymn, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” in a church, in front of the altar looking radiant in a deep purple dress and short cape around her shoulders. Houston’s voice still sent chills down my spine. She sings, “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free…” Bring a tissue for that.
Sparks portrays Sparkle, a shy songwriter who realizes she is a born performer. Her best scenes, where she appears most comfortable, are the musical numbers, and scenes dedicated to Sparkle's song writing. Sparks, who has a great voice, has more experience as a singer than an actress, so it will be interesting to see how she develops going forward with her onscreen career. Stix, "Sister and the Sister's" music manager and Sparkle's love interest is played by Derek Luke, well known for his role in "Antwone Fisher.” Luke adds genuineness to his character. He does well in making Stix very likable.
The performance by Carmen Ejogo as Sister is terrific; she kind of steals almost every scene she’s in. One of my favorite performances of Ejogo is as the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King, in HBO’s “Boycott.” It's so fascinating seeing her portray a completely opposite character.  She truly took this role, and played the heck out of it. Ejogo's Sister isn’t simply a typical “bad girl," but she gives her character depth. She's mesmerizing. A performance that surprised me, in a good way, is that of Mike Epps as Satin, Sister’s love interest, the conflicted comedian, with a dark, abusive side, which is not Epps’ usual type of role. This is a far stretch from Epps as Day-Day Jones in “Next Friday.” He does a good job.
The film also offers noteworthy performances by Tika Sumpter as Sparkle’s straight-laced no nonsense sister, Delores, and Omari Hardwick as Levi, who tries to win Sister’s love. The cutest scene between Sister and Levi is in a diner. You’ll see. And, Cee Lo Green makes an appearance in the beginning of the film as an entertainer named, Black, with waves in hair.
I enjoyed the film. It appears to be a production where everyone put in the effort, and put their best foot forward. From adding a different spin to the original story by Howard Rosenman, co-executive producer, (the 2012 screenplay is by Mara Brock Akil), to the wardrobe, cinematography, the performances of new and more seasoned actors, no one wanted this to be just another remake.
“Sparkle” (producers Debra Martin Chase, T.D. Jakes and Curits Wallace) will open in theaters nationwide Friday, Aug. 17.

Take a look at the trailer: