The comparisons are going to be there, but from the beginning up until the end, it’s obvious that this film is different from the low-budget classic that opened in 1976. The original set the groundwork for Dreamgirls, which started as a Broadway musical. And it also inspired a young Whitney Houston, who is partly responsible for bringing the remake to the big screen.
Unlike in the original, the remake of Sparkle isn’t set in the projects in Harlem and the sisters don’t seem to be poor at all. The ending isn’t as bittersweet as the original – all’s well that ends well. The new version takes place in Motown-era Detroit and follows the sisters, who form a group headed by the eldest sister – who, coincidentally, is named Sister. Sparkle writes the music, and Delores is the sassy pre-med sister who’s along for the ride. Sparkle gains confidence on stage as her relationship with manager/cheerleader Stix develops. As with the original, Sister’s interests lay in the materialistic and it puts her in a tragic situation.
Whitney Houston plays the mother with the dark past rooted in unrealized music dreams. The story of her character falling to the temptations of the industry seemed personal and no doubt relatable to Houston – fitting for her last role. The rage over a deferred dream made Houston’s portrayal almost haunting.
American Idol winner Jordin Sparks was cast in the title role and does a decent job, but fails to measure up to Irene Cara’s original portrayal. Vocally, she did well interpreting the music while putting a contemporary spin on the songs. Her naivety was often endearing and then bothersome at other times.
Carmen Ejogo as Sister seemed to be toned down. It was obvious that the actress tried to tone down the blunt rawness that the role called for – which Lonette McKee (the original Sister) played well.
Interestingly, in the 1990s Warner Bros., who originally owned the rights to the film, was going to cast Aaliyah in the remake. After she died the project was pushed back. Aaliyah recorded a song from the film, “Giving Up is Hard to Do,” from which one might assume she would be given the role of Sister since McKee performed the song towards the end of the film.
Tika Sumpter was brilliant as Delores. She brought strength to the role that stood up well, and even surpassed her predecessor from the original. Her fiery character provided a moral blackness that celebrated the period.
Other standouts included Mike Epps as Satin and Derek Luke as Stix, both of whom gave convincing performances.
Sparkle was executive produced by Bishop TD Jakes. The film was directed by Salim Akil and written by Mara Brock Akil. The soundtrack is from the original Curtis Mayfield production with a few new songs added.
Sparkle is now playing in theaters everywhere.
–James R. Sanders
James R. Sanders is a freelance journalist and stylist based in New York. He writes for both online and print publications. He obsesses over social media and is finally finishing up his first novel about vaudeville and revenge set in the 20s. Check out his fashion blog here: jamessandersatlarge.tumblr.com