Sometimes movies just get a pass. I’ve been hard on movies since I was a kid, and ask me 10 years ago? I wouldn’t have said anything like that. A critic at a young age — famously citing Ben Hur as “pretty but too long” at the tender age of six — I’ve since learned to let movie-going become more about the experience. Sparkle, a tame and slightly tired remake of a 1976 film starring the fabulous Irene Cara, strives to create such an experience. Reminiscent of the recent hit Dreamgirls, Sparkle stars American Idol winner Jordin Sparks as a shy singer named Sparkle Anderson. Along with her two sisters, she strives to create a successful girl group in Detroit during the height of Motown. As you can imagine, with fame comes tension within the group, and soon the once close-knit trio starts to drift apart. This standard tale is enlivened by glitzy production, shiny costumes and a great soundtrack by Curtis Mayfield and new additions by R. Kelly. Solid performances are at the real heart of the movie. Jordin Sparks does a fine job as the lead (and has a lovely voice), though she is out-acted by co-star Carmen Ejogo, who steals scenes with her world-weariness and utterly doomed ambition. Cee Lo Green, Tika Sumpter and Mike Epps round out the cast. The real story, of course, is that Sparkle is the fifth and final film performance by the late Queen of Pop, Whitney Houston. Many had speculated that this movie was going to kick-off Whitney’s comeback, and I think they may have been right. She plays the girls’ uptight single mother, and with her voice a little rough but her eyes clear and her demeanor vibrant, it’s clear that Houston was back in her element on the set. She plays this domineering religious character with fervor and confidence, and truly was a joy to watch. Watching this film, I made a conscious effort to enjoy it, especially when I saw how happy Houston was to be working on it. I looked past the familiar story, the sometimes poor sound editing and occasionally over-the-top melodrama. And you know what? Under all that, Sparkle was an enjoyable flick. Still, the six-year-old critic in me has to add — Dreamgirls did it better.

Tags: Dreamgirls, Jordin Sparks, movie review, Sparkle, Whitney Houston

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