Title: Joyful Noise
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Todd Graff
Screenwriter: Todd Graff
Cast: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Dexter Darden, Courtney B. Vance, Jesse L. Martin
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 1/9/12
Opens: January 13, 2012
Neither character-driven nor plot-driven, Todd Graff’s “Joyful Noise” can best be called propelled by its music–a variety of styles including gospel, rhythm and blues, country and pop. The movie features performances from Dolly Parton in her first lead role in 20 years and especially Queen Latifah, whose character embraces hostility to her husband, her pretty daughter and her rival in the church choir of a depressed southern town in Georgia. Yes, the story does not feel authentic–after all, how did the choir of the Pacashau Sacred Divinity Church manage to put across a foot-stomping, award-winning contemporary melody across in a national competition without even a sign of a rehearsal? But “Joyful Noise” has the redeeming feature of its enthusiastic thesps who appear to be having more of a ball that one might expect of any of us in the audience.
The teen romance which features an assertive “bad boy” tossed out of his house by his mom but embraced by his grandmother, a lad who captures the heart of a sixteen-year-old woman who chafes at being treated as a child and blames her mother for chasing her dad away from the family. Toss in a parson, who threatens to cut off all support for the annual gospel song competitions unless the choir sticks to traditional music, and you have a movie that announces well in advance how all the loose strings will be tied up at the conclusion.
Yet despite its Hallmark Hall-of-Fame qualities, the performers are appealing, the music is inspiring, and the food fight in a restaurant between two rivals in the choir are enough to make “Joyful Noise” a welcome addition to the generally bleak and all-too-adolescent January fare.
As the story opens, choirmaster Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) grasps his heart as he is leading the church choir in a front of an audience. The pastor, Dale (Courtney B. Vance), announces that the counsel has chosen Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) over Bernard’s widow G.G. (Dolly Parton), to lead the choir notwithstanding the latter’s financial support of the organization. G.G. and Vi are connected in another way: G.G.’s grandson Randy (Broadway performer Jeremy Jordan) has the hots for Vi’s 16-year-old daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer), pursuing her so winningly and persistently that Randy beats out the competition for her heart. It doesn’t hurt that Randy offers compliments and piano lessons to Olivia’s Asperger’s-handicapped brother Walter (Dexter Darden).
Will G.G. and Vi get over their hostility and become forever-bonded pals and co-workers? Will Randy ultimately win the hand of the reluctant, innocent Olivia? Will Pastor Dale get over his refusal to allow any but traditional gospel to be used in the approaching competition to be held in Los Angeles, a competition that could win important funding for his church? Will anyone in the audience believe that the performers are not lip-synching their tunes?
Tune in, and watch especially for the toe-tapping, hand-clapping finale.
Rated PG-13. 117 minutes (c) 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – B