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FILM REVIEW: ‘Joyful’ choir musical hits too many off notes Bill Fentum, Jan 13, 2012
PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS. PICTURES
Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah co-star as feuding church choir members in the musical comedy, 'Joyful Noise'.
By Bill Fentum Associate Editor
Joyful Noise Rated PG-13 for some language including a sexual reference
Joyful Noise has hardly been on screen for more than a few minutes when we know what to expect from the rest: a steady stream of clichés, heavy on the “noise,” light on the “joy.”
Behind the opening credits, Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) leads the choir at Sacred Divinity Church (seriously, that’s the name) in fictional Pacashau, Ga. Then Bernard suffers a fatal heart attack, and after the funeral the pastor gives his job to choir member Vi Rose (Queen Latifah). This enrages Bernard’s wife G.G. (Dolly Parton), who thought she’d be the one to fill his shoes and (to be honest) seems more upset over the snub than her husband’s death.
G.G. doesn’t quit the choir or leave the church, but she and Vi start a bitter feud that goes on till they must come together to help the group win a national competition. So enjoy, if you will, the spectacle of two divas spouting stale verbal zingers that sound like rejected lines from Steel Magnolias.
Not that there aren’t subplots. When G.G.’s visiting grandson (Jeremy Jordan) meets Vi’s daughter (Keke Palmer), the two are instantly attracted to each other (Romeo and Juliet-lite). Meanwhile, the church and its community struggle through economic woes and gain inspiration from the choir’s success (shades of Depression Era “Let’s put on a show” musicals).
If only writer-director Todd Graff had ditched this script in the early stages, and instead filmed a documentary about contemporary gospel music. He has enough real-life talent on stage in the competition scenes to give him a nice start—from famed gospel singers Karen Peck and Kirk Franklin to 13-year-old Ivan Kelley Jr., of Chattanooga, Tenn., who leads a children’s choir in singing Billy Preston’s 1960s classic “That’s the Way God Planned It.”
Sadly, though, Joyful Noise just drags on to its predictable conclusion with a few tired twists to pad out the two hours.
Worst of all is a running gag about Sacred Divinity choir member Earla (Angela Grovey) who sleeps with a fellow singer, wakes the next morning to find he’s died in her bed, and spends the rest of the movie worrying aloud that “no man will ever want me again!” Never mind, for a moment, that it’s tasteless and unfunny. The real problem: Why throw this element—and a later, casual quip about teen sexual promiscuity—into a movie that otherwise aims for a church-based audience?
If you’re wondering the same thing, send the filmmakers a message: Erase Joyful Noise from your “to see” list and hold out for something that offers the same themes of faith and perseverance but in a fresher, more reverent package.
That isn’t too much to hope for in 2012. After all, it’s only January.