FAMILY FRIENDLY ‘SPARKLE’ SHINES ON SCREEN
BY KENYA VAUGHN
OF THE ST. LOUIS AMERICAN
(NNPA)- It took an overhaul of epic proportions to get the 1976 black film cult classic ‘Sparkle’ in shape to show in front of audiences of all ages. But the husband and wife team of Mara Brock Akil (screenwriter) and Salim Akil (director) were up for the challenge of changing the gritty urban musical drama into a family friendly inspirational experience.
An extreme makeover – well, make-under with respect to adult content – that included a modified story and new songs penned by R. Kelly will sit well with fans of the original film. And the film’s evolution will also create a cinematic connection with the classic characters for a new generation of audiences.
The Akils, T.D. Jakes and a host of producers – including the writer and producer of the original film – left little margin for error as they responded to the pressure of not only rehashing a beloved film, but the final screen performance of beloved and recently lost pop culture icon Whitney Houston.
The handled the responsibilities with care, grace and what was apparently a genuine appreciation for the opportunity to do so.
For Sparkle 2012, 1950’s New York became 1968 Detroit. The story of a talented trio of sisters and the highs and lows that come with life in the entertainment industry is explored. And while the story has been given a family-friendly undertone, the experiences and trappings are illustrated with truth and sincerity.
The sisters must also deal with the apprehensions of a religious and lovingly overbearing mother – who is determined to prevent her daughters from repeating the pitfalls she encountered while attempting to pursue a career in secular music.
Mara Akil tends to shortchange the audience from time to time over the course of the film with her storytelling. But while more character depth and exploration would have been greatly appreciated – especially with respect to matriarch Emma – her modifications augment the experience and capture the emotional turmoil that Sparkle must suffer through to achieve her dream of making music. And director Salim Akil’s pacing of the film moves at a speed that can feel a bit abrupt – especially the ending.
The performances in ‘Sparkle’ are a highlight of the film. Whitney Houston was able to showcase maturity, growth and instinct as an actress in her final cinematic performance. As she immersed herself in the role of Emma, she appeared to have drawn from her own experiences in the entertainment industry.
In the title role – and her first feature film – Jordin Sparks bears the burden of carrying the weight of ‘Sparkle’ on her shoulders. She does so with the presence and energy of a seasoned film professional. Sparks convincingly evolves from shy and withdrawn songwriter resting comfortably in the shadows of her older sister to a star in the making.
Most of the core ensemble of ‘Sparkle’ delivered noteworthy performances, but credit for the standout supporting performance belongs to the most unlikely of co-stars.
Typically cast for the mere sake of comic relief, comedian/actor Mike Epps will blow audiences away with his dark portrayal of Satin Struthers – a comedian who instantly retreats into a deprecating torturing soul when his spotlight fades to black.
Carmen Ejogo was also an unexpectedly pleasant surprise with her portrayal of Sister – once the viewer forgives her lackluster singing voice.
Between the top-notch performances, understated star power and fresh perspective the newly restored ‘Sparkle’ outshines the original. But instead of being disrespectful, the film pays tribute by clarifying the impact of the story and driving home the point of the power that comes in pursuing one’s passion.
Sparkle is currently open in theatres nationwide. The film is rated PG-13 with a running time of 120 minutes.