October 22, 2018

Posted August 20, 2012 by Ed Goldberg

Director: Salim Akil
With: Whitney Houston, Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter, Derek Luke, Mike Epps, Omari Hardwick

This is sort of a remake of a 1976 film, notable for Aretha Franklin singing on the soundtrack and for having an all-African American starring cast.  Originally set in the 1950s, this film is moved up to the late 1960s, when soul music and Motown records were in full flower.

Three sisters, Tammy (Ejogo), aka Sister, Sparkle (Sparks), and Dolores (Sumpter) are talked into forming a singing trio.  Sister sings lead, and she is pushing 30 with a history of failure.  Sparkle writes the music, and Dolores is in it until she goes to med school.  She is also the proto-black power presence in the film.

Standing in their way is their mother, Emma (Houston, in her last role), a failed singer with a history of substance abuse and a current religious fervor.  Does all this sound familiar?

Whether it is The Jazz Singer, or Fame or Footloose, the plot works out the same.  I occasionally identify a screenplay as having been written by software.  This is one.  I liked some of the music, a combination of real and ersatz 60s soul, but I winced as the cliches piled up one on another.

Sparks is an American Idol winner, a category which is notable as much for mediocrity as for real talent.  She can sing, and looks good, but can’t carry the film.

Ejogo is fiery and the best thing in the movie, Sumpter does well in a small role, and Houston hits her mark, says her lines, and delivers a rousing gospel number at the end.  People will speak kindly of her performance.

When I got home, I put on some Supremes and Marvin Gaye just to wash away the lingering sound in my head.

Ed Goldberg