• Fri, Aug 17 2012

The Mother Whitney Houston Played In Sparkle Doesn’t Exist

In this day and age of Toddlers & Tiaras  and Dance Moms and My Child’s Reading On Grade Level, So She’s A Super Genius and You Might Want to Give her a TV Show and Make her Famous and Fine, As her Mother, I’ll Star in it Too!, the plot of Sparkle just doesn’t make sense.

With all due respect to the late Whitney Houston, her character as an overprotective mother  just doesn’t ring true. For those of you who are planning to see the movie, stop reading because the crazy train’s pulling into spoiler city and I’m about to talk about the plot in detail.

So we’re in Detroit and it’s the late ’60s. (But twist, we’re not in the movie Dreamgirls.) Emma (Whitney Houston) raised three daughters who she brought up to respect the lord and follow in her god-fearing footsteps. Their only career options are marrying a nice man or going to med school. Sorry, that’s the way the cookie crumbles in this movie full of beautiful singing voices and treacherous plot holes.

The eldest sister, who’s confusingly enough named Sister (Carmen Ejogo), returned from NYC after failing at building a life there and now drives her mother crazy by being single and 30. Ugh, the ingratitude of that one. Next in line is Dee (Tika Sumpter), she’s full of spunk and brains. Naturally, she’s going to med school. And finally there’s Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), the meek little church mouse who’s a phenomenally gifted songwriter and singer. Therefore, her mother wants her to get married to a church-going man and forget about that music nonsense.

And therein lies my major problem with this film. (My minor problem being that Emma used the most eclectic baby naming book in the world.) We’re shown from the very first scene in the film that Sparkle possesses an amazing talent that’s extremely rare — she’s a female singer/songwriter who’s music can excite a crowd. After hearing her songs, up-and-coming music manager Stix (Derek Luke) immediately wants to help her and her sisters put together an act and get a record deal.

So they do that and they do amazingly well as a group. Sure there’s a few snafus with Sister getting into drugs. But it wouldn’t be a movie about talented people without a few lines of coke. Before long they’re opening up for Aretha Franklin. Yes, that Aretha Franklin. However the whole time that they’re becoming a famous girl group, their mother thinks they’re asleep in their beds. You see, they’ve been sneaking out at night to perform. When Emma finally turns on the TV one night, sees them performing and realizes what’s going on, she’s infuriated.

She tells Sparkle that her dream’s nonsense and her songs are stupid and every other horrible thing a parent could say to her aspiring singer/songwriter daughter. And it makes no sense because her dreams aren’t nonsense. Emma catches them opening for Aretha Franklin. ARETHA FRANKIN! If that doesn’t scream “your child is talented!” then I don’t know what does.

Sparkle defends herself and ends up moving out to pursue her dream. Naturally her mother doesn’t support her because her mother’s horrible — and possibly also deaf. But then, at the very end, in a scene right out of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, she has an ephiphany that her daughter’s actually going to make it and shows up for her performance.

Sparkle is all like, “Mama! You came!” and her mother’s all like, “I wouldn’t miss it for the world!” and the audience is all like, “um, but you almost did because you kicked Sparkle out your house for even attempting to pursue this career and now you show up when she’s about to sign a record deal and you’re kind of the worst fair weather fan ever?”

Does this mother exist outside of movie world? This mother who’s completely blind to her child’s talent? Even when everyone else is telling her that her child’s actually a prodigy and possibly the next big thing in the music industry.

I don’t think so and that’s why I couldn’t get into this movie. In real life, Emma would be the one driving her daughter around the city, getting her meetings with record producers, introducing her to the right people and encouraging her to sing and write as much as possible.

Because when your child’s as talented as we’re told Sparkle is, you don’t let her settle for a nice husband. In a world where every mother thinks her child deserves her own TV show for being able to dress herself,  it’s impossible to believe there’s one out there who purposefully sabotages her child.

(Photo: Hello Beautiful)

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  • Jenese

    So you’re just going to leave that little part about how Emma, Sparkle’s mother, played by Whitney Houston, was a singer and fell victim to the perils of fame (drugs, abusive men, etc.)? And how that informed her decision to shield her girls from the recording industry and everything that comes with it? And how that led to one of Whitney’s most compelling lines in the film: “was my life not a cautionary tale?” Because that’s how it all made sense. The stage moms you referenced are hungry for fame. The mom in “Sparkle” had fame, and suffered because of the choices she made related to it. Therefore, she didn’t want it for her kids. If you’re going to harshly criticize the movie, at least be fair and include all the details.

    • Jenni

      Fair enough. I did leave that part out. But because I still believe the bigger problem is that Sparkle is supposed to be so talented, but her mother goes out of her way to call her singing/songwriting stupid. It’s one thing to have a conversation with your child about the perils of fame — it’s another to throw her songbook in the trash.

      Also, I have a hard time with “supportive” mothers who kick their children out of the house when their kids need them the most. If she really worried about Sparkle going into the industry and knew Sparkle was trying anyway, wouldn’t she want to be there to advise her along the way?

    • Chile

      Chile. Just leave Whitney alone. Let her rest in peace. Chile.

    • Jenni

      I didn’t critique Whitney, I critiqued the character she played.

    • Kelly

      I think you’re still missing the point. Of course she’s telling her daughter that’s it’s all trash. She’s trying to steer her away from the biz, she’s just doing it very badly. She thinks she’s doing the right thing for her daughter.

    • Nippy

      Amen!

  • Nippy

    I disagree, I worked as a social worker for four years and have encountered parents that have been very negative and sabotage their children in pursing or believing in their dreams. Trust me!

    • Jenni

      But isn’t Emma supposed to be a good mother — and not one who’s trying to sabotage her children.