Whitney Houston's final film has some mature elements.
  • Review Date: August 16, 2012
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 116 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

While there are some cautionary messages about marrying for money, allowing yourself to stay in an abusive relationship, and even not supporting your kids' passions, there are also positive themes. Sparkle, Stix, and Dolores all have big dreams: to make music and to become a doctor, respectively. Their journeys are filled with ups and downs, but none of them gives up, and by the end of the movie, they've all accomplished their goals.

Positive role models

Despite the two self-destructive characters, Sister and Satin, Sparkle does have several positive role models. Dolores considers singing a means to the end of getting into a good medical school and becoming a doctor; she's grateful for her mother's strict encouragement of education. Sparkle follows her dream of becoming singer-songwriter without being disrespectful to her mother. Emma seems overly rigid, but she realizes she shouldn't squash her daughter's dreams.


Domestic abuse is depicted; soon after their marriage, Satin begins to hit Sister, who fights back. Satin also strikes Sparkle across the face. Characters are shown with bruises on their face and body. Two men nearly come to blows at a nightclub. During a climactic fight, a character is killed in self defense.


Sister exudes sexuality with her sultry mode of singing, her barely there clothes, and her provocative dancing (the other two sisters are considerably more demure). In a couple of marital love scenes, Sister and Satin grope and kiss each other passionately while wearing nightclothes/lingerie. Sparkle and Stix kiss and flirt, and Sparkle mentions that she's a virgin. Emma mentions teenage hormones, premarital sex, and illegitimate children.


Occasional strong language and insults, including a couple uses of "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "ass," "damn," "goddamn," "oh my God," "hell," "whore," and "jerk." Also some racial slurs, such as "Sambo" and "coon," said by African-American characters.


Mentions of Barry Gordy, Motown, Columbia Records, and Cadillacs.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

In addition to drinking in nightclubs and parties, Sister's husband introduces her to cocaine and heroin and overindulging in alcohol. She becomes the cautionary-tale junkie by the end of the movie. Several characters smoke cigarettes -- from a mother to clubgoers.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Sparkle is a remake of a '70s melodrama about the many travails that face those who seek fame and fortune in the music industry. Starring late pop superstar Whitney Houston (in her final film) and former American Idol champion Jordin Sparks, the period showbiz drama will appeal to both young Idol and older Houston fans. Like most showbiz industry tales, Sparkle has a fair amount of substance use (alcohol and drugs) and sexuality (passionate foreplay, revealing outfits, and discussion of adultery, premarital sex, and teen pregnancy). Even more unsettling is the portrayal of an abusive marriage that shows a couple hitting and hurting each other (the wife-beater is eventually killed in self defense). Despite the more intense elements, though, Sparkle is ultimately inspiring for young artists who want to reach for the stars.

What's the story?

In SPARKLE, the titular character (played by the appropriately named Jordin Sparks) is the baby sister in a trio of singers in late-1960s Detroit. Despite the warnings of their strict mother, Emma (Whitney Houston), Sparkle writes songs for her sexy older sister "Sister" (Carmen Ejogo) to perform in Motor City nightclubs. Discovered by Stix (Derek Luke), who wants to be a music producer, Sparkle and her siblings become the latest Supremes-like trio in Detroit. But Sister's relationship with Satin (Mike Epps), a rich but abusive comedian, threatens to ruin Sparkle's dreams.

Is it any good?


It's nearly impossible not to compare Sparkle to Dreamgirls. Both films feature an American Idol veteran in her feature film debut about a Motown-era trio of female singers who must deal with the dangers that accompany showbiz dreams. But whereas Dreamgirls follows the rise and fall of full-blown celebrity, Sparkle focuses solely on the lead-up to fame. With that in mind, Sparkle is a considerably less substantial movie, but it still has several entertaining numbers, a decent debut by Sparks, and a heart-wrenching (and almost prescient) final performance by Houston.

The three sisters are examples of the various paths to stardom: Sparkle is the authentic artist who lives and breathes to write and perform songs, Dolores is talented but is more interested in a professional career as a doctor, and Sister is the materialistic one who wants the bling and attention. Some directorial missteps make Sister and Satin's abusive marriage look borderline comical, but Sparks is well cast as a charmingly self-conscious singer. And, at the very least, Houston is given her last moment to shine on screen. Her emotional performance of the gospel hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" is a highlight of the film -- and a sad reminder that sometimes fame really does kill.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Sparkle's messages about the entertainment industry. How does a glimpse of fame and fortune change characters? Why does Sparkle respond differently to the prospect of the music industry than her older sister does?

  • How is domestic abuse portrayed here? Does the fact that a comedian plays the violent husband take away from the severity of the subject?

  • Emma is a strict mom, but she has her rules for a reason. How does her emphasis on family, faith, and education reach each of her girls differently? Do you think parents are stern for good reasons?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 17, 2012
DVD release date:November 27, 2012
Cast:Derek Luke, Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston
Director:Salim Akil
Studio:Sony Pictures
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Music and sing-along
Run time:116 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:mature thematic content involving domestic abuse and drug material, and for some violence, language and smoking

This review of Sparkle was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Broadway + BeyoncĂ© = big, boomy musical fun.
  • Ray
    Excellent portrayal of extraordinary musician.
  • Late great Bernie Mac's last laugh is for adults.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 13 years old Written bydoubleE May 6, 2013

Sparkle is Surprisingly Good Movie that is Entertaining

I actually really liked this movie but it does have some mature moments. There are some sexual references as well as well as some suggestive clothes but the biggest thing in this movie is the topic of domestic violence. Its shows a man beating, hitting, and whipping his wife with a belt. Though the walls of the house cover most of this, its still hard to watch. Sparkle is a very good role model and this movie has a happy ending. Also, expect to see some drinking, swearing, and frequent smoking. Go see it!
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written bywishandwash August 19, 2012

Some influential messages, but it definitely isn't for everyone.

It's mixed in with good lessons, but I don't think you could go for a role - model here. The language is REALLY strong for a PG-13 movie, and I mean it. Your teens will be able to handle the violence, and mild sex talks, depending on how you've been talking to them... Yes, there are drugs, drinking, and smoking, but seriously.. is that so bad? This movie isn't for everyone, for people not interested in singing, or drama please spare yourselves and watch something of interest,because,well... it's a pretty lengthy movie.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Special Needs Guide