Emma Anderson (Whitney Houston) didn’t want her daughters to follow in her footsteps by having babies when they were teenagers, while squandering their future in the futile pursuit of celebrities and boys who wouldn’t respect them as women. That’s why the overprotective single mother is glad to be able to raise them in a middle class suburb of Detroit where she keeps them on the straight and narrow path by using a combination of Christianity and high moral standards.
All three of her daughters have inherited the ability to sing from their mother, a blessing they put to good use in the church choir every Sunday. However, the girls also have their own distinctive personalities and are yearning to express themselves.
Dolores (Tika Sumpter) has her mind set on attending medical school. Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is a gifted composer who’s too shy to perform any of her ballads in public. However, Sister (Carmen Ejogo) is a confident extrovert who craves the limelight and the attention of men.
Consequently, it’s no surprise when Sister rebels and runs away from home, rather than abide by her mother’s restrictive house rules. She’s only been back in town for two months, but already has a couple of suitors competing for her hand — Levi (Omari Hardwick), a penniless, perfect gentleman, and Satin (Mike Epps), a flashy, silky smooth operator.
Given Sister’s materialistic nature, it’s easy to guess that that she would be more interested in the attentions of Satin, a misogynist who has a dark side that hasn’t yet been revealed. Meanwhile, Sparkle starts dating Stix (Derek Luke) who encourages the talented sisters to form a trio and try and become superstars.
So unfolds Sparkle, a modern morality play with a sobering message made all the more telling because it’s Whitney Houston’s cinematic farewell. Several of her lines in the movie induce goose bumps, such as when she asks, “Was my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?”
The film features standout performances from Whitney Houston and Carmen Ejogo, with Derek Luke and Mike Epps also appearing at their best. Jordin Sparks certainly holds her own when called upon to sing, but she doesn’t seem to be quite ready to handle the acting demands of a title role.
The movie is written and directed by the husband-wife team of Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil, and is very loosely based on the 1976 musical of the same name; with the point of departure, the timeline, plot developments, and the score being tweaked for the overhaul. A must-see, if only for Whitney’s sentimental swan song and Carmen’s coming out party.
Excellent (***½). Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, drug use, smoking, mature themes, and domestic abuse. Running time: 116 minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures.