“Sparkle” (Jordin Sparks) is one of three daughters of “Emma” (Whitney Houston), a single mother living in Detroit. She works in a dress shop, is an avid church-going woman and intends for her middle and youngest daughters to make something of themselves. “Tammy” (Carmen Ejogo) is known as “Sister” and she’s the oldest sister. Emma isn’t too invested in her future, as she’s only tolerating her presence in her home since Sister moved back home after her marriage fell apart. “Dolores” (Tika Sumpter) is the middle daughter and she’s got her future all planned out, medical school and then being a doctor.
Sparkle follows her mother’s dictums and goes to school, but her dream is to be a singer and a songwriter. Sister has a spectacular voice, and Sparkle writes great music, one song of which she convinces Sister and Dolores that they should form a “girl-group” and try to sing at a local spot. Sister’s performance, singing and how she moves and grooves, garners the attention of both “Stix” (Derek Luke), who is a wannabe music group manager, and “Satin” (Mike Epps), a black comedian whose audience is primarily white. Satin will also end up giving “Levi” (Omari Hardwick), the man who loves Sister and wants to marry her a hard time.
Stix wants to take the trio to the next level, and will do whatever it takes to get them there. The girls have to sneak out to perform, as their mother will have nothing to do with them trying to get anywhere in the world through music. She tried and failed, and after a rough patch with alcohol built a life for herself. She won’t let her girls make the same mistakes, if she can avoid it.
The girls begin to enjoy success and the popularity of Sparkle’s one song is not a flash in the pan. She has the gift. With her writing and Sister’s ability to sing and perform, things are looking up. Until Sister decides she’s moving out of Emma’s house and in with Satin. That’s the first step on her downward spiral into drugs, being beaten and worse. But it doesn’t hurt the group’s chances for success, especially when Stix manages to get “Larry Robinson” (Curtis Armstrong) an A & R manager for a big record label to come hear the girls sing. He is blown away, but wants to see the girls in the “light of day”.
That takes place on a day where Sister shows up badly beaten, hair askew and in need of some of the cocaine she’s been using to get by. The girls are in a utility closet, trying to get her together when Larry orders his secretary to open the door, and just like that, their big break falls apart.
Sparkle wants to continue, and both Dolores and Sparkle want to get Sister away from Satin. They go to Satin’s house to rescue her and there is a confrontation that turns violent. A poker from next to the fireplace gets swung and suddenly, Satin is dead, Dolores and Sparkle are sent fleeing by Sister, who gets arrested and goes to jail.
Will Dolores get where she wants to go, into medical school with the scholarship she needs to pay for it? Will Sparkle find her dream of success in the music business? Will she and Stix find happiness? Will we hear the late, great Whitney Houston’s voice soar like it did before her own personal struggles with alcohol and drugs tore apart one of the finest careers any female solo singer ever had? Will you win the lottery next week? Well, all but one of those questions are answered before the end of the film, and you can probably predict all of the resolutions of those issues before you set foot in the auditorium.
There is little tension in Sparkle. Drama, yes, tension, no. There is little that you can’t predict. How Sparkle will respond when her mother tells her to stop pursuing her dream. How that dream will be resolved. Sadly, aside from what appear on the surface to be appropriate sets and costuming for the era, and wonderful music (have to love any film that sneaks in at least one Nina Symone number), there isn’t much to recommend Sparkle.