T.D. Jakes is the minister of Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas – who has been spreading his message of faith and hope by making films of faith and hope. Some of the movies he has produced are Not Easily Broken and Jumping the Broom. The movies are pushed toward the African American market much the same way that the media promotions push Tyler Perry’s work. And like Tyler Perry, they are films that are for every audience, not just a black one. The latest T.D. Jakes production is easily going to be their most successful film and is called Sparkle.
This is actually a remake of a little known 1976 film with the same title. Set in Detroit in 1968, the story of Sparkle is the story of a girl called Sparkle (played by Jordin Sparks). The youngest of three sisters, she is a child prodigy. Sparkle dreams of being a musician in the vein of Diana Ross. She is just a bit timid to be in the spotlight.
The movie opens with Sparkle convincing her big sister called Sister (Carmen Ejogo) to sing at a night club. Sister belts one of the many songs that Sparkle has written and does it in a sultry fashion. It seems that Sister, who is almost a decade older, has been around the track a time or two and knows how to manipulate an audience.
The performance catches the eye of Stix (Derek Luke) a young manager who knows talent when he sees it. He talks Sparkle into writing more songs and convincing Sister to front the group. Before one can blink, the group is Sister and her Sisters – think Diana Ross and the Supremes
The problem is that they have to keep this secret from Mama (Whitney Houston), a very strict disciplinarian who expects her daughters to make something of their lives. They all sing in the church choir and are not allowed to do much else. It seems that Mama had a history in trying to catch the spotlight and a bitter reminder of the aftermath of the dark side of the entertainment industry. Mama does not want her daughters to fall into the trap that she fell into many years ago.
Sister catches the eye of different suitors which includes a nightclub comic who tells jokes demeaning to black people. He is of the old shuck-and-jive mentality, an anachronism in the days of black empowerment – a performer who does not see the writings on the wall and takes his frustrations out on Sister, Ike Turner style.
The story is of how the girls go for the brass ring and find that family is strained to the breaking point in the process. It is also the story of how Sparkle finds the inner strength to believe in her abilities. The film has a deep moral conviction but is in no way preachy.
Even if Whitney Houston would not have died, this would have been an Oscar consideration performance. Her tough as nails mother resonates with the audience as much as it should to the Academy. When she belts out a gospel number the crowd ends up cheering. This is the kind of performance that any actor hopes will cap off a career, even a career that ended way too soon.
Honestly, the biggest discovery of Sparkle is Carmen Ejogo. Though she has been in a few different films over the last few years, this should vault her to the A-list. It is a powerhouse reading of a woman trapped by demons of her own making. It is hard and heartbreaking to watch someone flush their talents away but Carmen Ejogo delivers one of the strongest performances of the year doing just that.
The film is to be showcase for the triple threat that is Jordin Sparks. This young woman commands every moment she is on stage, drawing one into her world. Not only is she stunningly attractive, she sings like an angel and gives a natural acting performance. She plays a character that is at the cusp of a movement, a movement that she can direct if only she finds the fire inside. It is a tale of belief in oneself that wins the audience over.
This is easily one of the best soundtracks of the year. Sparkle could simply be made into a Broadway musical. The songs copy the timbre of Motown while sounding fresh. Music fills every moment of the film and sings joyous to the masses.
Director Salim Akil does what one should do with a remake, which is making it better than the original. He tells a tale that is touching and truthful while never pushing his message to a harsh degree. In a smart move, he lets the actors tell tale and gives the audience enough to let them draw their own conclusions on the morals.
This film should win Reverend/producer T.D. Jakes a legion of fans. He likely be praised for giving an audience a film that has a strong moral conviction yet is massively entertaining. If you liked Dreamgirls, you will love Sparkle.