Sparks Sparkles in “Sparkle.” Well, towards the end at least.

by Akeya Dickson

PSA: This is not a dis, and is a strictly snark-free zone. Mainly because Jordin Sparks, the 2007 American Idol winner, seems like a very, very nice person. Like I’d totally want her to babysit and sing to my fictitious children all Mary (Marquita?) Poppins-like.

However — and I say this with a spoonful of sugar and zero acting experience — she doesn’t strike me as an actress who’ll be pulling any Angela Bassett or Meryl Streep performances out of the depths of her soul. She doesn’t seem very actress-y at all.

As the closeted singer-songwriter Sparkle, Sparks gives up a near-virginal (well, actually virginal in the film, as she points out in one scene) wide-eyed ingenue performance. Save for her breakout moment toward the end (we’ll get to that in a bit), it makes the viewer wonder if she’s actually playing the role, or if this just is who she is?

The true test will likely be when and if she stretches her character range to play a role beyond one that’s so similar to her own career trajectory.

To be clear, she did a fine job. Everyone did. The film grossed $12 million at the box office and nabbed the fifth place position. It was helmed by the Akil family – director Salim Akil and writer, co-producer (as well as wife) Mara Brock Akil, who we all have to thank for bringing us “Girlfriends” and “The Game.” (Whitney Houston and T.D. Jakes were also producers.)

Mara brought Tika Sumpter, whose sculpted yet soft features make her look like a walking Barbie doll (this is a compliment), over from “The Game.” She plays Dolores, one-third of the Sister and her Sisters trifecta, who quite vocally has her sights set on Meharry Medical College. (Meharry, one of the first medical colleges for African Americans, got a lot of love in this film, which was kind of awesome.)

The significance of Whitney’s role as Emma, the girls’ mother who tries to protect them from the singing career that nearly destroyed her, is obvious, ominous and pitch-perfect. I think some people find it hard to go see the film for this very reason, because they know that this is the last role they’ll see her in.

It’s especially bittersweet as it was filmed during a time when Houston was really trying to make a change in her life after previously faltering, and who among us can’t relate to that, even if we might not share her exact struggle?

There’s a moment in the movie where she and her character’s daughter, Sister, a vampy chanteuse with an eye for shiny things, gaze at one another and you can tell they saw pieces of their past and future in one another’s eyes.

Carmen Ejogo delivered as Sister, as did Omari Hardwick as Levi, her sweet-as-pie boyfriend. Derek Luke was cool as Stix — though I feel his shining moments were his boyish smile and charm. I would have loved to see more depth, like his stellar performance in “Antwone Fisher.” 

It was curiouser and curiouser — in a good way — to see Mike Epps go dark in his role as Satin, a fingerwave-rocking comedian with lots of cashflow. Epps is always good for a joke or one-liner, and had a couple in “Sparkle” initially. But smiles faded as we watched his character become something other than who he is in his other roles and in real life (that’s what I’m talking ’bout Jordin).

It reminded me of when I saw Marlon Wayans play an all-jokes-aside druggie in “Requiem for a Dream,” a film that robbed me of all of my innocence (and I was in college then!)

There were plenty of departures from the original film to make it not feel like you’re watching a re-enactment of the original. In fact it’s pretty much entirely different. They even moved it from Harlem to Detroit’s Motown, which I think is much of the reason why it’s received accusations of ripping off “Dreamgirls.”

I don’t agree, the original version of both stories were about Supremes-like girl groups in the 60s. Speaking of, there will be another such film released in the States at the end of the year called “The Sapphires.”

Except “The Sapphires” is about a group of girls singing to troops in the Vietnam War and got a standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It has an Aussie/Aboriginal twist with “Rabbit-Proof Fence” fabulouso Deborah Mailman, and is currently being screened in Australia.

Back to Jordin. She drums up some moxie throughout the film and has some “believe in yourself” conversations. But the Red Dress Moment is perhaps her most memorable of all. (And is an iconic image from the 1976 original, when Irene Cara was decked out in all her bedazzled sequins and organza-like one-shoulder action.)

Jordin actually stumbled upon the sexier beaded, column dress herself. She poured herself into the $13,000 Chagoury Couture sample size at that, punching weight loss square in the face.

But when she sat down at the piano in the final scene (this is hardly a spoiler, it’s one of the few scenes that’s almost exactly like the original film’s final scene, with a few jazz-it-up-some-more additions), she looked a lot like early Alicia Keys sans cornrows. (I thought of Keys playing Sparkle but something made me not like it.)

When Jordin opened her mouth though and really started singing, she was giving me so much full-bodied Christina Aguilera. And this is where I get confused, since I’m neither an actor or a singer: is this some Sasha Fierce-esque alter ego that Sparks summons on the stage always, or is this her acting? I lean toward the former.

Either way, I don’t know how in the hay she was able to hold this back the whole film. If I had a voice like that, I’d be SANGing my McDonald’s order, with Jodeci riffs to boot:

“Can I get some chicken nuggets and fries, Babybabybaaaay-bayyyy…Oooh-wee!!”

One thought on “Sparks Sparkles in “Sparkle.” Well, towards the end at least.

  1. Great review Key! I must admit I was less than enthused by the selection of Carmen Ejogo as sister. I just feel that she was much to frail to exude the curvaceous femininity of the original. I do feel as though she did a great job trying to become that character, but I feel that it fell flat in more ways than one (and I am not knocking that because I understand the flatlands). I did enjoy sparks, but like you I feel as though she was not necessarily stepping outside of herself to become sparkle but then again you never know. Finally, Whitney’s performance was great and when she sang at Satin’s funeral I could barely keep it together. Mike Epps as “Sambo” aka Satin was one of the extreme highlights and surprises of the film. He truly embodied the twisted evil that was satin and I believed it. I definitely enjoyed the film overall, but the original is tough to beat. Unlike some, I would have been fine with an exact replica of the original. However, I did like how they developed Tika Sumptner’s character a bit more in this film, however I did miss the fourth sister.

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