Judge Brett Cullum watches Whitney Houston one last time.
Celebrate the legend.
It's hard to see Sparkle and not think of it as haunted, since this was the last performance of singer Whitney Houston before her passing in 2012. Even though she's not the lead, this was expected to be a comeback for Houston who had not been seen on screen since 1996's The Preacher's Wife. In addition to her acting duties, she also served as an executive producer, having worked to get this project off the ground since 2000 when the late singer Aaliyah was cast as the lead. Now that it's landed on home video, people can see the film for the ensemble piece it truly really is, and a showcase for American Idol's Jordin Sparks.
Facts of the Case
Set in 1960s Detroit, Sparkle tells the story of three sisters who decide to become a girl group, much to the chagrin of their church-going mother (Houston). Each have their own reasons for singing, including Sparkle (Sparks) who writes music, Sister (Carmen Ejogo, Alex Cross) who needs to escape her abusive past, and Dolores (Tika Sumpter, Salt) who's looking to pay for medical school.
There are easy problems to spot with Sparkle. The whole concept of a girl group hitting the Motor City is very much reminiscent of Dreamgirls which executed this concept far more effectively. Oddly enough, this is a remake of the 1976 Joel Schumacher-scripted cult classic—starring Irene Cara and Phillip Michael Thomas—which went on to inspire the far better Broadway show. The plot of the reboot is truly cookie cutter, with every turn holding little surprise in a narrative. The music is strong, save for a few odd choices, like when the girls open for Aretha Franklin by doing a '90s En Vogue tune "Giving Him Something He Can Feel." Then there is the final Sparkle solo number which sounds like a season finale performance for American Idol. Director Salim Akil (Jumping the Broom) asks us to repeatedly believe things that feel out of place for the era and it does nothing but rings false.
Still, despite all the problems, Sparkle held my interest based on performances alone, whether they be acting or singing. Sparks and Houston are passable actresses who sing better than they deliver lines, but Ejogo and Sumpter are more than up to the challenge of this rudimentary script, both contributing real performances that give us something to feel. Houston gives a rousing rendition of "His Eye is on the Sparrow" which crowns her career nicely, and Sparks gets to stand out with her finale. In effect, everyone gets their moment, and the film is all the better for it.
The 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer offers a nice use of blacks contrasted with vibrant colors, gracing the film with a 1960s pop sensibility. Detail is flawless without any aliasing or edge enhancement. Audio is given the DTS-HD 5.1 lossless treatment, and it comes off as silky smooth as the visuals. Sony certainly knows its stuff when it comes to digital presentation.
This Blu-ray release features everything the DVD has in supplements plus a little bit more. There is a director's commentary, a tribute to Whitney Houston from the cast and crew, and a making-of featurette. Exclusive to Blu-ray are a few more featurettes on the production design and cast, as well as a music video with a song performed by Sparks and Houston. We are also given an uncut look at the finale solo number for Jordin Sparks.
It was such a loss to hear about Whitney Houston's passing, and the theatrical release of Sparkle was overshadowed by the news. Now that some time has passed, it is nice to see Sony honor the late singer and showcase the ensemble she was a part of. Sparkle has some narrative problems, the film offers enough thrills to endure its predictable and pedestrian storytelling.
When it lets the singers do what they do best, Sparkle shines.
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