Wednesday, August 22, 2012

‘Sparkle’ glitters with Jordin

 By James Colt Harrison

Back in 1976, writer/director Joel Schumacher and his partner Howard Rosenman came up with an idea to write a movie about the rise of the singing group The Supremes. Naturally, it couldn’t actually be about them, so they changed a little here and there to avoid lawsuits. But it did end up being a story of a girl group of singers who started with nothing and shot right to the top. In the first version, Irene Cara played the lead and later became somewhat of a successful performer. Philip Michael Thomas ( of Miami Vice fame), Lonette McKee and Dorian Harewood were also in that cast.

Now, in 2012, Schumacher is not directly involved, but you can be sure he’s getting a cut for his original idea. As well he should. Writer Mara Brock Akil and Howard Rosenman have updated the script and given it some modern touches to bring it into the 21st century. Even though the film takes place 1960s Detroit, all the girls wear the very latest in clothing styles and hairdos, so it s a little astonishing to think the action takes place 50 years ago. It’s not that the girls should be wearing bustles and high-button shoes, but a nod to the 60s fashion would be in order.

Jordin Sparks, who gained her fame as an American Idol winner, is simply adorable as the shy, virginal songwriter who has aspirations in show business. With her two other sisters Delores (Tika Sumpter) and Sister (Carmen Ejogo), the girls form a group and play in some Detroit dives to gain attention. Oddly-named older sister Sister (Ejogo) takes the spotlight (much as did Diana Ross), and Sparks fades into the background. Even though she has a desire to be a performer, she caves in and lets her stronger sister take all the accolades.

For a good three quarters of the film Jordin Sparks is wasted being hidden in the background. She sings backup, but there is no featured number of her until the very end of the film. Whitney Houston, who play the girls’ mother, is even more wasted in this, her last film. As a failed singer, she is now resigned to raising her daughters and singing in church. But there could have been a flashback to her glory days when Houston could have knocked one out of the park, and we would then understand why she is cautious with her daughter’s singing aspirations. Alas, it’s a lost opportunity.

Mention absolutely must be made of actress Carmen Ejogo. As the stronger of the three sisters, she plays the Diana Ross role to perfection. She is a terrific performer, dominates the screen easily without trying, and for most of the film she is the star. Where did she come from, and why has Hollywood been hiding her? After thirty years in this business, this reviewer has never once heard of her, and that’s amazing. It turns out that Ejogo, 38, is of Nigerian heritage born and raised in London. She made her debut on British television and has appeared in several top shows in Britain. Although she appeared in several bit parts in American films, she never made as big a splash as she has in Sparkle. She is so dazzling in her musical production numbers and also in her dramatic scenes, that there is scuttle around Hollywood about her being nominated for an Oscar® come next year. She is married to American actor Jeffrey Wright, has two children, and lives in Brooklyn. Starring Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Michael Beach, CeLo Green. Stage 6 Films/ TriStar Pictures.

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