Almost everyone know someone who isn’t all quite together, but you love them anyway because deep inside they are a wonderful person. That is much like Joyful Noise, the new Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton flick about dueling choir directors and their families. Latifah can do no wrong in my book and you can’t help but like Parton. She pretty much plays herself in every role she plays, but she is so dog gone likeable.
Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) is the choir director of Divinity Church in Pacashau, Georgia. Each year his choir enters, and loses, the Joyful Noise Gospel Music Competition. After he passes away from a heart attack, Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) appoints Vi Rose Hill (Latifah) to be the new leader instead of Bernard’s wife, G. G. (Parton). Vi likes the more traditional music while G.G. likes to mix things up. Living practically as a single mother, Vi raises two teenagers on her own; Olivia (Keke Palmer) who is also a member of the choir and Walter (Dexter Darden) who struggles (unconvincingly) with Aspergers syndrome. G. G. Is all alone until her wayward grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) shows up and takes a shine to Olivia which furthers the struggle between the two choir mistresses.
Putting Latifah and Parton in sparring roles is pure genius. Their verbal assaults at one another are hilarious, especially a food fight spat in a diner. Like her real life counterpart, G.G. sports razor sharp fingernails, a plastic face incapable of frowning and tightly hemmed choir robe and pokes fun of herself. Her relatively good nature is a great foil against Vi’s uptight personality. Still, with all that spunk, Parton comes off a little fragile and the exchanges are too short. The music, and there is a lot of it, is great. You already know that Dolly and Queen can sing, but Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) and Jordan (in his first film role, but well known on Broadway) are a wonderful surprise. Kristofferson sings and appears only briefly. He actually speaks instead of sings much of his duet with Parton, which was disappointing. Other cast members are fellow Broadway stars that fill out the choir well. Joyful Noise is best when it focuses on its main characters, but instead, it insists on taking on multiple storylines that somehow waters down rather than add to the film. Overall, the plot is rather cheesy but it has heart. Some scenes are genuinely touching and others are surprisingly realistic (don’t EVER tell Queen that she is not pretty!), but the overall it feels hollow. The message of hope and the need for Jesus in our lives is loud and clear, but the message is uneven. For instance, it’s not clear why Randy shows up in the first place. He’s presented as a “bad boy” who never enjoyed “church music” before meeting Olivia. By the end of the movie, we know that he has a good heart, but he doesn’t show any signs of a stronger faith. Now a warning: Don’t go in thinking you’ll be seeing a good old-fashioned Christian movie. While the music is great, you won’t be hearing any familiar standards and at least half of the songs are versions of popular pop songs that aren’t necessarily spiritual, but they are uplifting. Noise is more liberal than most faith-based movies with mild language and adult situations. It’s not a story for young children.