Sparkle: Whitney Houston's Last Film Has Sublime Moments
Postblaxploitation and pre-Dreamgirls, the original, funky, low-budget Sparkle from 1976 set its girl-group rise and fall in Harlem in 1958. Salim Akil's remake, scripted by his wife, Mara Brock Akil (creator of the late, great Girlfriends and The Game), moves the action to Detroit, 1968. With this relo, the production design has been expanded considerably, as has the plot and dialogue; the forebear's underwritten melodrama has been supplanted by Tyler Perry-like soap operatics and much jawing about the Lord, riots in the Motor City, marriage proposals, and maternal heartbreak and disapproval. Sparkle 2.0 wisely retains most of the '76 version's Curtis Mayfield-composed songs, and the new numbers by R. Kelly fit nicely with those outstanding tracks. But where the original singing threesome — siblings who went onstage as "Sister and the Sisters" — generated intense heat from the fiery, foxy Lonette McKee, the redo suffers from the weak screen presences of Carmen Ejogo as the troupe's lead singer, who gets hooked on dope and bad love, and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks in the title role (originated by Irene Cara), who goes solo after Sister self-destructs. But one casting choice was perfect: Immediately after the Akils' Sparkle becomes most ridiculous, the film cuts to Whitney Houston, as the trio's stern, Bible-brandishing mother, singing "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." The moment is not as sublime as Mahalia Jackson's "Trouble of the World" in Douglas Sirk's Imitation of Life, but it's close enough.
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