Title: Joyful Noise
Director: Todd Graff (‘Bandslam’)
Starring: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer (‘Akeelah and the Bee’) and Jeremy Jordan (TV’s ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’)
People don’t always know how to agree on running groups, but their determination to do what’s best for their community leads them to try to work together. This is the main motivating factor among the choir members, particularly the leaders, in the new musical comedy ‘Joyful Noise.’ The newly-appointed Divinity Church Choir director Vi Rose Hill clashes with the church’s largest beneficiary, G.G. Sparrow, over what to sing to win the Joyful Noise competition. But the two ultimately agree they have to do what’s best to lift the spirits of their singers and the church’s congregants.
‘Joyful Noise’ follows the struggles the small town of Pacashau, Georgia has fallen on since the downfall of the economy. After the surprising death of Bernard Sparrow (played by Kris Kristofferson), the director of the Divinity Church Choir, his wife, G.G. (portrayed by Dolly Parton), expects to become the new leader of the group. However, to G.G.’s shock, Vi Rose (played by Queen Latifah) is selected as the new director.
Vi Rose stubbornly tries to stick with the chorus’ traditional songs in order to win the National Joyful Noise Competition. But when G.G.’s rebellious grandson Randy (portrayed by Jeremy Jordan) moves in with his grandmother, he encourages the choir to sing more modern songs that will appeal to everyone. Combined with his pursuance of Vi Hill’s daughter, Olivia (played by Keke Palmer), Randy’s arrival causes even more friction between his grandmother and the newly-appointed choir director.
Writer-director Todd Graff, who is known for helming the musically-themed ‘Bandslam’ and has served as a back-up singer for such artists as James Taylor and Carly Simon, included a heart-warming message that music can unite everyone in ‘Joyful Noise.’ The filmmaker said while making the movie, he drew on his childhood memories of his mother conducting a musical group in their home. His memories realistically created Vi Hill and G.G.’s understated bond over their love of music and faith.
Despite the Vi Rose and G.G.’s contrasting approaches on how to run the choir and which music to sing, they still tried to overcome their differences to do what was best for the choir and their town. They knew that with the difficult economic hardships many Pacashau residents were facing, their faith in their church and community was boosted by their music.
Latifah was well-cast as the conservative Vi Rose, who would do anything to protect Olivia and her son Walter (portrayed by Dexter Darden), who suffers from Asperger syndrome. Still suffering from the hurt of her husband, Marcus (played by Jesse L. Martin), reenlisting in the Army instead of staying home to support the family, Vi Rose is understandably reluctant to accept change. She doesn’t want to accept Randy and his free-spirited views on life into her family, but over time, realizes his actions won’t hinder on her goals.
G.G. is another strong-spirited character in ‘Joyful Noise,’ who isn’t afraid to question and push Vi Rose to do things outside of her comfort zone. While she loves the church and the choir, and is upset when is was passed over to become the new director, she doesn’t let her pride get in the way of staying with the things she loves.
G.G., who subtly comes to admire Vi Rose for her leadership and parenting skills, also has strong family values, and would do anything to protect Randy. She fearlessly encourages her grandson to stick with doing what he loves, including singing and spending time with Olivia and Walter, much to Vi Rose’s reluctance over his contemporary ways.
Graff made the right decision in hiring Jordan to portray Randy in the musical comedy. While ‘Joyful Noise’ is his feature film debut, the actor has experience on Broadway, and has performed in such plays as ‘Rock of Ages’ and ‘West Side Story.’ It was during his stage debut in the former that Graff discovered the actor, and knew immediately he wanted to cast him in ‘Joyful Noise.’ Not only is Jordan a talented singer, he understood Randy’s struggle to overcome resistance and help bring in a much-needed positive change to the Divinity Church Choir.
While ‘Joyful Noise’ featured a powerful message and talented performances, the actual plot-line can have been improved. Graff introduced several plot-points that seemed promising, but ultimately failed to pay off, or had an unrealistically unbelievable resolution.
For example, in the beginning of the film, the street smart, tough guitar player Manny (portrayed by Paul Woolfolk) tries to court Olivia, much to Vi Rose’s disdain. Once Randy and Olivia start building a relationship, he and Walter scare Manny into staying away from Olivia. Later, Randy convinces Manny into joining the choir, and the two act like nothing happen between them. Graff heavily relied on cliches, which Vi Rose regularly recites, throughout the film, and unfortunately failed to include any meaningful conflicts.
Not many films can tell a funny and inspirational story of hope, love and renewal through music, but Graff managed to tell a heartwarming tale with ‘Joyful Noise.’ With his singing and musical film experiences, the writer-director successfully cast well-respected musicians with Latifah and Parton to play the older generation looking to lead the way with the choir. Graff also made the right decision in hiring the talented Jordan and Palmer to portray the younger looking to make a positive change, while still connecting with their faith. Even with its powerful message and talented actors, ‘Joyful Noise’ unfortunately failed to deliver a well-developed plot.
Written by: Karen Benardello