Gospel According to Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah in ‘Joyful Noise’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – The old fashioned musical has gotten a boost from the recent popularity of “Glee” and other singing shows. It was inevitably that the marriage of the gospel choir and the movie musical would take place, and writer/director Todd Graff (”Camp”) is the matchmaker in “Joyful Noise.”

Pairing Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as members of a small-town competitive gospel group, “Joyful Noise” does just fine when breaking into song, but anytime the plot invades the proceedings, the atmosphere produces a sour note. Graff simply pours too many story elements into the musical stew, which is flat and bland when maneuvering through the various small town rivalries, and only produces steam whenever the gospel and other songs are performed.

The film opens with the gospel choir from a small town Georgia church competing in a regional singing competition. Choir director Bernard (Kris Kristofferson) falls ill at the show, and passes away shortly thereafter. This leaves his widow, G.G.(Dolly Parton), to continue his musical legacy, but the church pastor (Courtney B. Vance) surprises everyone by naming Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) to replace Bernard. Vi Rose is a traditionalist, and the choir wants to do more modern choreography and songs, which are typical winners at the competitions.

Dolly Parton (G.G.) Gets the Point from Queen Latifah (Vi Rose) in ‘Joyful Noise’
Dolly Parton (G.G.) Gets the Point from Queen Latifah (Vi Rose) in ‘Joyful Noise’
Photo credit: Van Redin for Warner Bros. Pictures

Enter G.G.’s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan), a so-called “troubled” youth who is sent to live with his pneumatic granny. He has a voice like an angel, and the modern sensibility to take the choir to another level. He clashes with Vi Rose immediately by setting his sights on her daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer). With G.G. and Randy on one side, versus Vi Rose, Olivia and the pastor on the other, can this plucky group of gospel singers win the national title? As long as they make a “Glee”-ful…I mean joyful noise.

It is the musical numbers that are the highlight of this film, which has its heart in the right place. That doesn’t mean the story follows suit, as it relies on painfully induced conflict and presumptuous notions of small town life. It has the plot sophistication of an “Archie” comic book, with less subtlety. In between the songs, Graff throws in a dead choirmaster, a boy with Asperger’s syndrome, arguments over nothing and a romance between teenagers that makes little sense, and nearly kills everything. But the musical numbers do shine.

There are fantastic voices to interpret the tunes, which are mostly secular. Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” gets the gospel treatment by Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan, as well as Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” There are two forays into true gospel, one being a poignant rendition of the standard “Fix Me, Jesus” by Queen Latifah and a choir performance of Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It.” There is a stunning final competition number, with the choir group using Sly and the Family Stone as a foundation for choreographed movement straight out of an MGM musical (if they would have had hip-hop moves available back then).

What is surprising about the weak plot is that Todd Graff is most notable for the cult film “Camp,” about a group of musical theater students at a summer camp. There is a an acerbic edge in that film that is desperately missing in “Joyful Noise,” and although the subject matter is different the decision to sentimentalize the gospel choir – with the exception of one running gag involving a group member who can’t find love – just made the non-musical parts hard to sit through.

Gospel Lovers: Jeremy Jordan (Randy) and Keke Palmer (Olivia) in ‘Joyful Noise’
Gospel Lovers: Jeremy Jordan (Randy) and Keke Palmer (Olivia) in ‘Joyful Noise’
Photo credit: Van Redin for Warner Bros. Pictures

And then there is Dolly Parton. The legendary singer/songwriter, with her plasticized, remastered face and body, is unfortunately out of place in small town Georgia. It’s hard to imagine the there would be a high quality of augmentation surgeons available to the character (Atlanta?), despite making mention of it in the film. Dolly still has a great voice, and even though a song that features dancing with her dead husband Kris Kristofferson is a bit giggle inducing, there is a realization that they are two of the great pop songwriters of their generation.

The film, in essence, is harmless entertainment, which relies more on the preaching of a compelling choir presentation than any kind of overt religiosity. This is the gospel of “Glee,” where all lives roll easier with a little song and dance.

“Joyful Noise” opens everywhere on January 13th. Featuring Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Courtney B. Vance and Kris Kristofferson. Written and directed by Todd Graff. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

timbmd's picture

Joyful Noise -- change it to Horrible Noise

To make it simple: I want my money back — and my 30 minutes into the movie. Please, don’t make rip us off again with this kind of mediocre tasteless cheap film.

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