(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on December 9, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/no-spark-here-at-all)
Cast: Whitney Houston, Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, Mike Epps
Director: Salim Akil
Rating: 2 stars
There’s very little point in making yet another movie on the jazz- and gospel-singing culture of the Seventies, especially if it isn’t a biopic. And very little to justify the story of an all-girl Motown band that isn’t packed with wonderful music. Despite the presence of Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks, the most memorable performance comes from Carmen Ejogo, while the music is lost in a hackneyed narrative that leaves much unexplained.
The film opens to snatches of dialogue about Vietnam, and a radio contest, before we’re thrown into a jazz club, where a sweaty Cee Lo Green is crooning about being a love machine. Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) are waiting in the wings, and Sister responds to a challenge from Cee Lo by tearing off half her clothes and wowing the audience with her moves – though her husky singing isn’t bad at all.
It takes the film about half an hour to establish that Sister and her sisters, Sparkle and Dee (Tika Sumpter) are the daughters of junkie-singer-turned-
churchgoer Emma (Whitney Houston), who can somehow afford a house in a posh Detroit neighbourhood. Except for the mandatory images of Martin Luther King Jr. on TV, and one reference to Vietnam, nothing – least of all the language – is indicative of the era. No maids and nannies in this family. One of the girls is going to be a doctor, another probably a preacher’s wife, and one’s already an old maid.
The story takes us through the rise of Sister and her Sisters, with nods to sibling jealousy, cocaine addiction, the vagaries of showbiz, the fickleness of women, and the power of Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross. In last role in celluloid, poor Whitney plays a one-time teen mum whose daughters resent her for raising them between alcohol-induced comas. The film allows her one lusty song in church, which only serves as a vague reminder of her magnetic presence when she was rising to stardom in the Eighties.
The story is a cliché, and the film poorly made. All is forgiven and forgotten too quickly in a ten-minute span, as if the director’s suddenly remembered the titular character is still on the periphery, more than an hour into the film. The best entertainment comes from Mike Epps, starring as abusive husband Satin Struthers, a comedian who “coons for the Whites”.
The Verdict: With characters who fail to make us empathise, Sparkle unintentionally strikes us most as a dark comment on Houston’s life and death.