Movie Review: “Joyful Noise”

Image“Joyful Noise,” sort of a “Glee!” meets gospel music choral competition comedy, makes a pleasant enough racket. A cheerful, not-quite-off-color crowd-pleasing film that rarely breaks from its formula, it’s the big screen equivalent of a sloppy smooch from your over-affectionate aunt over the holidays.

You grimace. You stand there and take it. And you grin when you think about.

Writer-director Todd Graff, who specializes in this sort of cheerful, campy musical (“Bandslam,” “Camp”) lured Dolly Parton back from the wilderness and paired her with Queen Latifah. they play two big belters with competing visions of how their integrated, uplifting small-town church choir can win the big Joyful Noise gospel choir competition.

Will they wear the robes, keep the showmanship to a minimum and perform unadulterated Gospel Pop? Or will they show some flash, adapt mainstream pop love songs of the past to point that love heavenward and rock the house?

You remember “Sister Act.” You know the answer to that.

Vi Rose (Latifah) takes over as choir director when their longtime director (Kris Kristofferson) has a heart attack and dies after a performance. G.G. (Parton), his widow and the choir’s big financial benefactor, isn’t happy about that. But she grits her teeth and carries on, delivering homespun wisecracks all along the way.

Graff delights in those, and scatters Southern similes through the script zingers delivered by Dolly and the other Pacashau, Georgia Sacred Divinity Church choir members.

“You’re so country, you’ve been married three times and you’ve still got the same n-laws!”

“Don’t you look as happy as a puppy waggin’ two tails!”

And this Vi Rose warning — “There’s always free cheese in the mouse trap!”

She drops that one on her pretty soloist daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer). Olivia needs o hear it because the boys are noticing her, especially G.G.s randy grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan). He’s got talent that only comes out when he joins the choir to hit on Olivia.

Then there’s Vi Rose’s other kid, Walter (Dexter Darden), whose Asperger Syndrome takes the form of an obsession with songs of one-hit wonders.

Graff’s script is a real cut-and-paste-from-the-zeitgeist affair, from the move disease of choice (Asperger) to the hard times ( Pacashau a dying town suffering in a down economy.  Vi Rose is essentially a single mom because her husband is in the Army. And Graff made his script sellable by bending it toward the younger characters.

What he fails to do in this “big game” formula film is to give the story a villain, someone or something to overcome and root against. He rubs the edges off his two leads, who harmonize on stage and respect each other off stage too much to have a decent argument. The parent-child fights feel forced. The choir’s big rivals in choral competition are underdeveloped, and the long-suffering pastor (Courtney B. Vance, of course) isn’t that much of a threat to “shut down the choir.”

He gave his PG comedy a PG-13 edge by peppering the script with profanity and winking at premarital sex.

But the music — which includes Gospel takes on “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Man in the Mirror” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Higher,” makes this a fine showcase for the voices, and everybody gets his or her solo.

In a movie marketplace that embraced a perfectly awful exorcism film last weekend, you’d hope that Keke, Dolly and The Queen could lift their voices and lure in the faithful.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for some language including a sexual reference

Cast: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Courtney B. Vance, Jeremy Jordan

Credits: Written and direfcted by Todd Graff, a Warner Brothers release. Running time: 1:58

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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