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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- In theaters: August 17, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: November 27, 2012
- Cast: Derek Luke, Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston
- Director: Salim Akil
- Studio: Sony Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- 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
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.