Movie review – Houston’s last sparkle

2012-10-20 08:58

Queen of Pop’s final role on the big screen offers her the second chance she never managed to get in life, writes Gayle Edmunds

Film: Sparkle (Ster-Kinekor)
Director: Salim Akil
Featuring: Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter, Derek Luke, Mike Epps and Whitney Houston
Rating: 6/10

Sparkle is a bit of a curiosity. It has the distinction of being Whitney Houston’s last film. Though she was hardly a prolific film star – this was her fifth role in a film career spanning 20 years.

However, her first, 1992’s The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner, is an iconic movie moment.

She was at the height of her musical powers during that rather soppy love story, so to hear her high, clear voice as a raspy husk in Sparkle was a terrible shock.

Though the makers only had her sing once, leaving the type of songs that she would have nailed in her prime to the three youngsters – Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter.

Sparks comes out tops with the voice and presence that won her American Idol all those years ago.

She had to bring it on as she was filling the sequined dresses that Irene Cara donned in the original 1976 film of the same name.

Houston is the rigidly religious mother of the three exuberant, musical girls in Sparkle who form a girl band at the height of the Motown era in 1960s Detroit.

This role as Sparkle marks Sparks’ first big screen role and I guess movie lovers will see more of her. It’s not that she’s a great actress, but she’s likeable and looks good in front of the camera.

Her co-star Ejogo, who stars as Sister, is a well-known movie face, having made her mark as Eddie Murphy’s love interest in Metro.

Sumpter is a regular on TV’s Gossip Girl and her character, Dolores, gets the best cracks to deliver by far.

The love interests are played by Derek Luke as the idealistic would-be manager Stix, while funnyman Mike Epps gets in touch with his inner jerk as Satin, a man who likes to collect beautiful things – mostly women, who don’t survive the experience well.

It is impossible not to be appalled by Houston’s face as much as by what has happened to her voice and her Sparkle had all but gone by the time she made this.

Though only 48 years old – this film was made months before her death – her face bears the ravages of a life unwisely lived.

The drugs, drink and fights so sordidly spread across the tabloids in latter years are too hard to hide, even with the expert make-up and flattering light of the movies.

There is one thing though. This film offers the fairy-tale ending Houston never had a chance to have in real life. Her character too had a rough start, a singer who was lured into a destructive lifestyle, but who pulls back in time to survive.

Sadly, she couldn’t pull this off before it was too late.

Houston in her prime will always be one of the unforgettable voices of my youth. If this is true for you too, you may find this film has at its heart a tragedy far greater than those on screen.

Sparkle is a rather ordinary film, a thinner, cheaper version of the same story told with such power in Dreamgirls – but Houston’s posthumous performance guarantees it an audience.

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