Making a ‘Joyful Noise’ at the Movies – a Review

Dolly Parton (G.G. Sparrow) and Queen Latifah (Vi Rose Hill) lock horns as two opinionated members of a small town church choir in “Joyful Noise.” The pair fights against and beside each other in the quest for a national music title. Georgia’s Pacashau Divinity Church Choir has lost at the regional level repeatedly through the years and the death of the long-time choir director darkens this year’s prospects.

The cast includes Keke Palmer (Olivia Hill) as Queen Latifah’s daughter, Jeremy Jordan (Randy Garrity) as Dolly Parton’s bad-boy grandson, Courtney B. Vance as Pastor Dale, Angela Grovey (Earla) as a pivotal choir member and a brief appearance by Kris Kristofferson as Dolly Parton’s husband. Dexter Darden plays Walter Hill, Olivia’s younger brother and an Apserger syndrome sufferer, in a touching performance.

First, a warning: this is not a “church” movie. “Joyful Noise” offers lots of praise music and inspirational moments but it also delivers some sexual content and vulgar language. With that warning out of the way, this movie deals with imperfect people trying to work out their differences and achieve their best. Think “Sister Act,” where the action took place in a religious environment but did not always portray positive models.

While G.G. and Vi Rose contend for control of the choir, Olivia and Randy explore their emerging attraction to each other. Randy loves music and uses it to break through Walter’s shell. Pastor Dale seems to be the official party pooper, squashing G.G.’s idea to have Randy write new arrangements for the choir. Earla goes through traumatic relationships in her quest for a love life.

The movie contains some hilarious moments, especially between G.G. and Vi Rose. The two may be members of the same congregation but they are both strong-willed and determined. Vi Rose derides G.G.’s custom-tailored choir robe and multiple plastic surgeries. G.G. pushes Vi Rose to be more contemporary in her music and less controlling with her daughter. Walter’s obsession with one-hit wonders runs throughout the film.

This film shares serious moments, as well. Vi Rose’s relationship with her absentee husband colors her dealings with her children. Her beautiful soliloquy-in-song plea reflects on her awareness of the problems. Walter desperately wants to be like everyone else. G.G. faces widowhood and her grandson’s reputation as a troublemaker. The poor economy in the little Georgia town threatens nearly everyone.

The script seems to be a combination of “Facing the Giants” and “Glee,” with a strong dash of “Steel Magnolias.” Homey country philosophy runs deep. We’re talking deep-dish feel-good here.

While there are some stereotypical moments, they are offset by the personalities of the ensemble cast and their interactions. With two musical stars like Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, one might expect other singers to get shoved out of the spotlight. Not so. Most of the singing players had a chance to shine, and shine they did. Pastor Dale seems to be the only non-singer in the bunch. The soundtrack offers varied styles of Christian/gospel music and delivers them all well.

If you enjoy music, you’ll enjoy “Joyful Noise.” The only special effects to speak of are the delightful voices of the cast members. If the rousing competition number doesn’t have you tapping your feet, well, check your pulse – you may be dead. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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