Sister ditches the struggling Levi (Omari Hardwick) to marry the abusive Satin (Mike Epps), a comedian who has built a career telling racist jokes to white audiences. He beats Sister and gets her hooked on cocaine. Dolores finds scholarships for med school, while Sparkle continues to receive gentle encouragement from boyfriend Stix (Derek Luke).

But decision-making processes and “big” conversations do not appear. Situations simply change, either for better or worse, and the audience has to fill in the rest. Shunted to the side is a clergyman, the Rev. Bryce (Michael Beach), who ought to have advice to give, but doesn’t.

Sparkle’s strongest argument to her mother is, “Why did the Lord give me this gift if he didn’t want me to use it?”

The film builds to the time-honored conclusion of all show-business tales, demonstrating that it’s possible to maintain moral standards and reach one’s potential – and with stunning high notes, too.

Houston’s hauntingly emotional rendition of the gospel classic “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” performed in church, is about as nice an epitaph for the singer as anyone could wish.

The film contains marital violence culminating in a homicide, cocaine use, sexual banter, several racial epithets and a fleeting scatological reference. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.