More Gleam Than Sparkle

             

  I’m seeing ghosts!  At least I thought I was when I saw that Whitney Houston was starring in a movie.  However, I haven’t received the gift to see dead people, nor have I gone crazy.  Instead I went to see the latest musical drama entitled Sparkle, a movie about an African American girl of the same name.  Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) has a dream to make it big as a musician, but her stage fright and lack of confidence leaves her hiding in the shadows while her sister Sister(Carmen Ejogo) lights up the stage.  To her luck, a young upcoming agent named Stix (Derek Luke) pursues Sparkle and her sisters and attempts to help make them stars in Motown.  However, Sparkle’s life has some complications that will test her character and squash her dreams, especially from her mother (Houston).  Will she succeed?

Does it sound interesting to you?  It didn’t to me, but I went to this film hoping to be surprised or impressed by something.  As usual, we’ll start with the things that did impress me in this film and the first thing I’ll mention is the setting.  Tristar pictures did a nice job bringing the late 60’s Motown world to life with all of its funky soul and gospel power.  The club scene at the beginning is a just the start of the impressive scenery work of the group and helps bring the audience into the world a little bit.  Throw in some well designed outfits and classic mannerisms to help spice up things and you get an impressive artificial MoTown.  Speaking of outfits, the wardrobe department applied their skills well as each of the three sisters wore their own style in both clothes and hair styles.  Various jokes and cultural reference spanned off of the outfits (most of which was clever and cute), and from how the older audience members were reacting seemed to take them back to the good times.

If setting and outfits aren’t your cup of tea, then the next strength would probably be the music of this movie.  I’ll warn you now that this movie is all about the soul, jazz, and blues music and those who would rather stick carrots in their ears than listen to this music should avoid it.  From the start Cee-Lo Green gets the score pumping with an upbeat, and surprisingly clean, jazz song that will get you rocking in your seat.  After that the music goes into a variety of emotion filled blue tunes, a couple of upbeat hits, and of course one or two gospel like melodies that may you have clapping in awe.  While I’m not the biggest fans of these styles, I have to admit that these girls can sing.  Sparks in particular puts her chords to the test as she hits high pitched notes that drag on for half a minute.  Her powerful voice and spirit in her numbers captures the emotion of the tune, somehow bringing her thoughts and passion to life.  Ejogo has some pipes as well, but her numbers are more of a storytelling/entertaining bit that made some of the audience members howl in delight at her gorgeous body.  As you can guess Houston does well too, but she has only one song on the list that has some power to it, but plays little purpose other than showing off talent.  One last thing to mention is that the songs were selected to coincide with the attitude of the movie at that point.  Happy moments had the girls singing upbeat numbers, while sadder parts of the story had blues and soul music to help mirror the dismay and redemption.  It’s artistic, sappy, and cliché, but it’s something I have to give props to for helping drive the movie along.

Now let me discuss the weaknesses of the film.  For one thing this drama surprisingly has little character and story development for such a cast.  Sure there is the main plot story of Sparkle wanting to become a star, but aside from that the shallow subplots, love interests, and backstory are cheated out.  From the trailers you might know that the girls’ mother failed in the music industry, but Houston’s character never really told us the details of what happened.  Another sister had career desires, but they just skimmed over that and showed very little struggle or challenge to her goals.  There is one positive to this shallow story/character design and that is less time dwelling on a rather stale drama.  Skipping on these details again denies the audience story for their money, it helps get them to the musical songs (and consequentially the ending) faster.  Unfortunately this fast pace fails as one gets closer to the end, where they then decided to drag out the painfully slow details.  While you finally get a few happy ties to the story, by that point I just didn’t care from the spiraling downfall the story was, and just wanted to be out of the theater.  However, those who love good closure on their drama will enjoy the last thirty minutes of the movie, especially if you are a Jordan Sparks fan.  Other than that there is a little overacting, a lot depressing problems that may bring you down,  and a few editing issues that need to be wrapped up.

Sparkle definitely isn’t as shiny as the trailers made it, but it’s not the worse movie I’ve seen this summer.  Fans of the culture and music of the 60’s will probably enjoy this movie more than anyone else, especially fans of Sparks’ powerful voice.  However, the pace of this movie, lack of real character development, and irregular pace makes this movie a Netflix at best so that you can turn it off if you don’t like it and save yourself the time.  My scores for this movie are the following:

Drama: 6.0

Movie Overall: 5.0-5.5

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