Directed by Salim Akil. Starring Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter. (2012, PG-13, 116 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Aug. 24, 2012
Sparkle follows a music-industry hopeful getting her shine on, but there’s a more interesting movie percolating along the edges of the frame. American Idol alum Jordin Sparks plays the titular Sparkle, a sweet-tempered, churchgoing 19-year-old who writes R&B ballads on the sly in Detroit, circa 1968. Her mother (Houston, in her last film role), a failed Motown singer, keeps Sparkle and her two sisters – studious Dolores (Sumpter) and fiery Sister (Ejogo) – on short leashes, but that doesn’t stop the three siblings from starting a girl group. Sister, an unsure singer staring down her 30s, lets her swiveling hips do the heavy lifting, and director Akin films those hips (and lips, and swelling décollatege) in long, slow pans – the camera’s practically pop-eyed and panting. The role is pretty rote (see: social climber with a coke problem and not enough hugs from mom), but Ejogo infuses Sister with both snarliness and palpable ache. Sumpter has spark, too, in a supporting role, and an entire movie could’ve been fashioned around either one’s performance. But Sparks, an acting novice, falters when her character must muster gumption or sexual heat. She saves her best for last in a barnburner singing performance, but it’s too little, too late – especially with the memory of Houston’s one song – a heart-stopping gospel number – still ringing in the ears.