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In the film, written by Akil’s wife, screenwriter Mara Brock Akil, Houston portrays the matriarch of a late ’60s-era girl group featuring Jordin Sparks as an aspiring soul diva.
Sparkle currently holds a score of 60 percent among top critics on Rotten Tomatoes — a vast improvement from its predecessor, which earned a dismal 13 percent.
Read below for some of the reviews from Hollywood’s top critics:
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy praises the late singer, saying, “And there is also a vibrant Whitney Houston, both as executive producer and in an important role, in no way looking like she wouldn’t survive until the film’s release.”
McCarthy adds: “The interplay among the characters pulsates and the dramatic confrontations are sufficiently charged for the audience to get past the rampant aspirational cliches or at least ride with them. In what’s mostly the women’s film, Mike Epps does a first-rate job as the oily seductor, while Derek Luke manages credibly despite his character’s goody-goody demeanor.”
Michael Phillips of the Los Angeles Times says, “Now comes the Sparkle remake, and you know what? It works,” adding, “This is Houston’s farewell; At one point in Sparkle one of her daughters confronts her about finding her some nights ‘laid up in your own vomit.’ The line stings, and though Houston’s character refutes it, clearly it’s a link to Houston’s own tabloid fodder image,” says Phillips.
The New York Times‘ Stephen Holden points out that, “If the film is a sudsy show-business Cinderella story in which Emma’s youngest daughter, Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), ascends to glory, Houston’s presence makes it a cautionary tale.”
Holden also praises the late singer’s performance, saying, “Houston dominates the new Sparkle and gives its most compelling vocal performance in her rendition of ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow.’ Her vocal stamina was considerably diminished by the time she filmed the movie, but her disciplined, slightly hoarse rendition of that gospel standard gives Sparkle much of its heart.”
Claudia Puig from USA Today writes about Sparks’ character, “While Sparks has a genuine sparkle and an amazing voice, she doesn’t get to fully show it off until more than 90 minutes into the movie. Houston is convincing as the loving but inflexible mom. Houston has a singing solo while at church, but she’s clearly a supporting player in the movie, which she also executive-produced.”
Puig adds: “It’s too bad Sparkle trots out so many A Star is Born-style clichés. Fortunately, the film is full of show-stopping musical numbers that all but drown out the predictable story.”
Washington Post‘s Ann Hornaday says that, “While Sparkle doesn’t give the audience a lasting memory of Houston’s voice at its most soaring, it does manage to provide a lingering sense of loss, mixed with celebration and grim irony.
Then, Hornaday concludes: “Sparkle may have begun as nothing more than a tuneful, diverting nostalgia trip, but it turns out to be a surprisingly poignant swan song.”
New York Daily News‘ Elizabeth Weitzman was less impressed with Sparks’ performance, “She lacks the vulnerability of Irene Cara, the original Sparkle, and doesn’t seem fully comfortable until the soaring finale, when she’s allowed to tap into her true gift: her voice.”
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