Length: 118 minutes
Release Date: January 13, 2012
Directed by: Todd Graff
Genre: Comedy and Music
Stars: 2 out of 5
“Joyful Noise” is the story of two small-town singing rivals and their competition-bound choir. In the movie, writer-director Todd Graff manages to take a tired plot and twist it into an enjoyable, uplifting story, supported by his standout stars. With top-notch musical numbers and joy to spare, “Joyful Noise” guarantees a pleasant experience for music lovers everywhere.
The story opens on a plucky choir in a small, economically depressed town in Georgia; their music and spirit are the only things that keep the town going. When their beloved choir director dies, Vi Rose Smith (played by Queen Latifah) takes over. The plot centers on the conflict between traditional gospel singer Vi Rose and her rival, G.G. Sparrow (played by Dolly Parton). G.G., the widow of the deceased director, pushes Vi Rose to liven up the choir’s repertoire with more lively, modern tunes. Their conflict grows when G.G.’s troublemaking grandson comes to town and falls for Vi Rose’s young daughter.
As the choir prepares for the National Joyful Noise Competition, the rivalry between the two leading ladies comes to a head in an artificial and slightly uncomfortable public food fight. Their inevitable reconciliation strengthens the choir, which goes on to give the performance of a lifetime.
The movie succeeds largely on the combined star power of Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. In an enjoyable switch from her usual casting, Latifah is a staunch, conservative traditionalist. Parton, who hasn’t starred in a major film in 20 years, retains all of her characteristic charm as the fiery G.G. Together, they are an irresistible, if unexpected, combination. Viewers will delight in watching the two hurl Biblical insults, though the antics feel somewhat worn out after the fourth or fifth time. The remarks about Parton’s obvious plastic surgery work address her appearance without being mean-spirited; to the contrary, Parton seems to embrace them with a self-effacing charm. Both Latifah and Parton have spirit and sass to spare, and they lend emotional depth to the somewhat lackluster story. Their charisma shines through the holes in the plot; together, they breathe life and excitement into a movie that might otherwise fall flat.
The secondary star of “Joyful Noise” is the music itself. In the numerous musical numbers, Graff employs the considerable talents of his stars to their best advantage. The combination of Latifah’s rich, soulful tones and Parton’s trademark sound is a memorable pairing. The score, which includes covers of “I Want to Take You Higher” and “That’s the Way God Planned It,” is lively and rousing, and the cast has a spectacular amount of musical talent. The climactic final scene is loaded with familiar, high-energy numbers that will have viewers tapping their feet and humming along.
Without Latifah and Parton, Graff would have nowhere to go with an overly long, unnecessarily complicated script. The general premise is loaded with clichés and smacks of choir movies that have come before-in particular, it hearkens back to the antics in “Sister Act,” with righteous Southern Christian women instead of singing nuns. And yet, based on the strength of the music and the actors, the end result is a positive, feel-good movie that will delight fans of Latifah and Parton and inspire lovers of choral music.
The supporting cast is a surprising and talented bunch of small-town oddballs and outsiders. Vi Rose’s singing star daughter, Olivia (played by Keke Palmer), is a vocal standout; Palmer’s interpretation is perfectly nuanced and her singing is flawless. G.G.’s grandson, Randy (played by Jeremy Jordan), plays the handsome stranger who shakes up the conservative small town, much like Kevin Bacon’s character in “Footloose.” The romance between Palmer and Jordan is believable, and a number of entertaining subplots add to the story.
Overall, “Joyful Noise” is predictable but not boring. The conflict is dramatic, but is nothing that cannot be resolved before the final scene. It’s all been done before: mother-daughter tension, outsiders in a small town, and struggling folks overcoming adversity. The plot touches briefly on race relations, and the darkest moment in the movie is the director’s death at the beginning of the story. The bulk of the story is wholesome and family friendly, with the exception of a few swear words and a subplot involving implied sexual activity. The comedy and moral messages are delivered without subtlety. Overall, the message is positive and uplifting, and the movie promises a comfortable, unchallenging viewing experience.