Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sparkle (2012)

Sparkle (2012)
seen @ Jamaica Multiplex Cinemas, Jamaica, Queens, NY

I may have mentioned before that one of the first records I ever owned was Whitney Houston's debut LP. My father bought it for me; as a music geek going way back, he knew from good music and he knew, like the whole world would soon know, that this new singer was something special.

Time passed, however, and Whitney, like Etta James and Billie Holliday before her, struggled with personal demons. By the time her problems with her marriage and with drugs started becoming public knowledge, I had moved on from Top 40 music, and to be honest, while I sympathized with her situation, it didn't surprise me a great deal. I think we've reached a point in the evolution of American pop culture where we come to expect our pop stars to have some kind of drama in their lives...

...which is why her role in the remake of Sparkle is rife with subtext. There are moments throughout the film where, when Whitney's character Emma talks about her past as a singer, one gets the feeling she's really talking about herself. The line between fact and fiction gets blurred a bit, and it's reasonable to believe that Whitney was well aware of this.

At one time or another, we all dream of fame, but we never ponder what happens after we achieve it. These days, pop stars are younger and more expendable than ever, it seems, whether in movies or music or sports or what have you, and one wonders what, if any, kind of guidance they receive while millions follow their every move. Becoming famous is far, far too easy - it's holding on to that fame that's the real challenge.

I feel fairly certain that Whitney had positive role models that helped her on her meteoric rise to success, but somewhere along the way - maybe when she married Bobby Brown, maybe not - something went seriously wrong, something not too different, perhaps, from what went wrong with Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and (currently) Lindsay Lohan, among others, not to mention the character Sister in Sparkle. I believe part of the reason might have to do with achieving fame so relatively early in their lives. To be fair, though, this doesn't happen to every young pop star, and Sparkle ends with the hope that Sparkle herself will not turn out like Sister, but it's an idea worth pondering, given Whitney's role in this, her last film.

Sparkle was what I expected it to be: pleasant, safe, entertaining. I had expected it to resemble Dreamgirls in some fashion, even though the original film Sparkle predates the original Broadway musical Dreamgirls, but the similarities are purely superficial. I had also anticipated it being more of a showcase for Jordin Sparks, but though this is an ensemble, like Dreamgirls, Sparks doesn't get many "showy" moments, at least not like Jennifer Hudson did. Indeed, this is as much Sister's story as it is Sparkle's.

Sparks (anybody else getting a little confused between Sparks and Sparkle?), from what I could see, doesn't go for the vocal pyrotechnics as much as Hudson, but her role doesn't require her to. I guess I was under the impression that most, if not all, American Idol winners tend to go for the Aretha-like, up-and-down-the-vocal-register ooh's and aah's in order to impress the judges, and maybe Sparks did the same when she was on the show. Don't know. I sampled some of her songs on YouTube afterward. She's good. If she had come up in the 80s, I would've been a big fan of hers.

What was it about that song?

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