Starring Dolly Parton & Queen Latifah
Directed by Todd Graff
118 min., PG-13
Release date Jan. 13, 2012
Dolly Parton and hip-hopper-turned-actress Queen Latifah tussle for the musical direction of their church choir as it preps for a big annual sing-off in this new comedy-drama from writer and director Todd Graff.
Graff’s two previous projects, “Bandslam” (2009) and “Camp” (2003), had similar themes of competition and conflict. And Graff is himself a former backup singer, so it’s only natural that he keeps returning to a tuneful topic with which he’s familiar.
The music does, indeed, flow in “Joyous Noise.” There are more than a dozen performances, several of them full, start-to-finish songs. Some even feature non-actor, real-life performers (the electrifying Kirk Franklin, Southern gospel artist Karen Peck and a phenomenal young Atlanta teen named Ivan Kelley Jr.) in addition to Parton and Latifah, both of whom certainly know how to belt it out.
Much of the story concerns the romantic sparking of two of the movie’s younger characters, played by Keke Palmer, 18, and Jeremy Jordan, a Broadway performer of 27. Both Palmer and Jordan also do their own singing, with impressive results.
But with that much musical authenticity, why does “Joyful Noise” hit so many false notes?
Well, for starters, there’s Dolly Parton. She’s already such an iconic “character” in real life that it’s hard to accept her in this fictional role of G.G. Sparrow, a shotgun-totin’, homily-spoutin’, glamour-puss granny. The script makes repeated comical references to G.G.’s enhanced levels of physical artifice, further blurring the line between Parton, who’s made no secret of her repeated trips to the land of nip and tuck, and her character. The result: G.G. seems more of a parody than a person.
The movie’s a hodgepodge of snippy quips and catty clichés, and it frequently feels like a 90-minute, gospel-themed episode of TV’s “Glee.” The story is layered with subplots about an absentee military husband and father, a one-hit-wonder-obsessed teen with Asperger’s syndrome, and a choir member whose night of whoopee leaves her with a lethal reputation.
It’s hard to believe the choir members, in their rural, small-town Georgia setting, would have the polished, uptown chops to do what the movie has them do, like when a mid-song change of plans becomes an impromptu, highly choreographed finale—with break-dancing!
And to be built on a framework of gospel music, the movie never touches on the spiritual components of a musical genre built on spiritual components. In fact, it suggests that almost any secular pop song—by Michael Jackson, Sly Stone or Usher—can become a worship tune with only a couple of lyrical tweaks and some praiseful posing.
“Joyful Noise” stretches credulity at just about every turn, but its biggest whopper stems from its basic premise: That a choir with the twin divas of Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah would ever be the underdog in any vocal contest!