Joyful Noise review

Posted: January 9, 2012 in Film Review
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Joyful Noise is a sugarcoated harmless work of fluff that tries going many places without really going anywhere.  It is a film about a choir from a small town in Georgia that is determined to win a national choir competition against all odds.  With a synopsis like this, one typically will have expectations, and although it is indeed a predictable film, there are some surprises along the way and more than a handful of laughs to make it a pleasant enough feel-good movie to enjoy with your PG 13 family.

However, the first surprise is seeing Kris Kristofferson in a choir robe directing the church’s music team.  This is definitely not typecasting, and he looks out of place – rather strange in fact – in this outfit.  But this is short-lived because he proceeds to have a heart attack and it is then up to the pastor (Courtney B. Vance) to find a replacement choirmaster.  The two logical choices are church rivals: Kristofferson’s wife G.G. Sparrow (played by Dolly Parton) and Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah).  G.G. is the wealthy church lady who uses her money and influence to get her way, and Vi Rose is the hardworking “single” mom raising two teenagers.  (She is “single” only in the fact that her husband has abandoned the family by running off to be in the military, but everyone hopes that he will return when his stint is up, and they have remained married.)  The two women disagree on everything, but especially the direction the choir should go.  G.G. thinks Vi Rose is dull, unimaginative, and stuck in her old traditions; Vi Rose thinks that G.G. is a spoiled diva.  Vi Rose ends up winning the position.

Watching these two women verbally spar is fun to watch, and the quick-witted lines come fast and furious whenever they share the screen.  These scenes are by far the best part of the film, and Dolly’s self-deprecating humor is also enjoyable.  At one point she claims, “I am who I am.” To which Vi responds, “Maybe you were… five procedures ago.”  Dolly gets the last laugh when she claims, “Who cares if I’ve had a few little nips and tucks?  God didn’t make plastic surgeons so they could starve.”

Further tensions arise between the women when G.G.’s good-looking bad boy grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), falls for Vi Rose’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer) – a little too young and trying to be a little bit older.  And there is also Vi Rose’s son, Walter (Dexter Darden), who has Asperger’s, and who Randy takes under his wing to teach piano (and other life lessons), because – after all – Randy is not really a bad guy.

There is a subplot involving two other choir members who fall in love (and into bed), which is played for laughs and takes the film into its PG 13 territory.  I could have done without this whole sidebar, which does nothing for the story, and adds laughs only by mocking death, of all things.  There is yet one more subplot involving another boy who is in love with Olivia and jealous of her attention to Randy, who is implausibly redeemed through his music and joining the choir – and then forgotten about.  But it takes all these characters to infuse life into this small church choir, held back musically by the traditional-minded Pastor Dale and Vi Rose, both reluctant to open up and cut loose.  If only they would expand their horizons, then maybe the choir could go all the way to the top…

The music is well staged by director Todd Graff, even if not authentic and realistic, and the renditions of the songs are wonderful.  But I had to wonder why secular music was used to such an extent for the church worship songs.  These included material by Michael Jackson, Billy Preston and Paul McCartney, and although it’s been said (rightly so at times) that some of today’s worship music is nothing more than “love songs to my boyfriend (Jesus),” there is plenty of great worship music available that would have been more fitting.  There is a nice turn by Queen Latifah, and an appearance by Kirk Franklin, but even the predictable finale song presents the message that the only way to instill life and power in worship (and take you higher) is through secular music from the 60s.

But in the end, the film is harmless enough, and there are many positive messages spread throughout: messages of hope, family values, being the person God created you to be, and others.  The film is peppered liberally with many laughs and will pull at the heartstrings, and is relatively wholesome entertainment you can enjoy with your PG13 family.   Watch it with them and use it as a discussion starter.

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