Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill
Dolly Parton as G.G. Sparrow
Keke Palmer as Olivia Hill
Jeremy Jordan as Randy Garrity
Kris Kristofferson as Bernard Sparrow
Courtney B. Vance as Pastor Dale
Jesse L. Martin as Marcus Hill
Angela Grovey as Earla
Francis Jue as Ang Hsu
Written and Directed by Todd Graff
"Joyful Noise" features some great music, a few laughs from Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, and promising young talent with Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan, but a weak script makes the rest of the film quite unbearable.
When G.G. Sparrow's husband passes away, their small town church finds itself without a choir director. G.G. expects to be appointed the job, but Pastor Dale ends up appointing Vi Rose Hill instead. This, of course, leads to friction between the two women.
Matters aren't helped any when G.G.'s rebellious young grandson returns to town and starts courting Vi's sixteen-year-old daughter Olivia. If that wasn't enough, he starts shaking up their conservative choir, too. With the choir in full turmoil, Vi finds herself at the center of the storm just when they are trying to win a national choir competition – something that the whole town is counting on them to accomplish.
"Joyful Noise" is rated PG-13 for some language including a sexual reference.
January is commonly known as the dumping ground for movies that studios don't expect to do well. With full knowledge of that, I went into "Joyful Noise" expecting only good music and maybe a couple of laughs. I at least got what I was expecting.
With talents like Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton at the wheel, the music is quite good. In fact, if they had released this film in 2011 they might have had a shot at Best Song nominations. Dolly Parton wrote two original songs for the film including "Not Enough" and "From Here to the Moon and Back." Queen Latifah does a memorable rendition of "Fix Me, Jesus." But the cast also does some excellent renditions of some familiar songs like "Man in the Mirror," "Maybe I'm Amazed," and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours." It was almost too much like "Glee" for my tastes, but they did such a good job that they soon made me forget that and tap along with my toes.
Queen Latifah is the MVP of the cast as she delivers her usual mix of humor, attitude, and drama. This film also allows her to demonstrate her singing talent which got her into Hollywood in the first place. Pairing her with Dolly Parton initially seems odd, but the two work well together as rivals on the screen. I don't think their rivalry was played up to its potential nearly enough, but a catfight between the two gives a little taste of how funny these two ladies can be. It has been a while since we've seen Dolly Parton in a feature film. I'll admit that seeing her with so much plastic surgery done is a bit hard to watch, especially on the big screen, but I give credit to Parton - she laughs at herself. They actually do some plastic surgery jokes at Parton's expense and it helps the audience know that she doesn't take herself seriously.
Two other standouts among the cast are Keke Palmer as Olivia Hill and Jeremy Jordan as Randy Garrity. Both are excellent singers and really standout among the cast, occasionally overshadowing Latifah and Parton. In fact, they get a surprising amount of screentime. This movie is more about them than anyone else. While both are better singers than they are actors, I think they both have strong careers ahead of them, particularly Keke Palmer (who already has her own teen TV series "True Jackson, VP"). It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
What Didn't Work:
Unfortunately, any time there is no music on the screen, "Joyful Noise" is pretty bad. Simply put, it's poorly written. Director Todd Graff also wrote it and while the basic story idea is a solid one, the end product simply doesn't work. Where to start?
First of all, the dialogue is really, really weak. Throughout the film I was almost in a constant state of cringing. This is especially the case any time the story attempts to get spiritual - it's so watered down that it all sounds rather hollow. I have yet to see a Hollywood film that can make religious dialogue sound sincere and actually meaningful. The other problem with the script is that it was quite random. At one point, out of nowhere, we see Latifah as a nurse picking up an elderly man's bedpan, him knocking it over, and her having to clean it up. The scene then ends. I understand Graff was trying to show that she had a rough job, but before that point we didn't even know her character was a nurse. It came out of nowhere. There were other abrupt scene changes throughout the film.
The script also tries to do way too much without doing any one thing well. We have conflict between Vi and her daughter, Vi and her son with Asperger's Syndrome, Vi and her estranged husband, conflict between Vi and G.G., the romance between Olivia and Randy, Randy vs Olivia's other suitor, etc etc etc. It's a heck of a lot, but none of it gets properly developed. A good example of this is the fact that G.G. is widowed within the first few minutes of the film (when Kris Kristofferson dies in one of the shortest cameos of all time). Literally after the funeral, the Pastor walks G.G. into his office and tells her he's replacing her husband with Vi. Would a pastor really do that on the day of the funeral of a woman's husband? Shortly after that the entire choir gives a round of applause to Vi for becoming the new choir director as G.G. is standing there. G.G. gets a little pat on the back, but it otherwise comes across as insensitive. The rest of the film, G.G. doesn't seem particularly upset by the death of her husband until the song "From Here to the Moon and Back" comes along, and only THEN does that plot point get the proper attention it deserves. I say all this to make the point that the script probably should have focused on two or three plot points and cast the rest aside. It would have also probably reduced the over two-hour running time of this movie.
If I were to ask you who the core audience is for "Joyful Noise," you'd probably say Queen Latifah fans, Dolly Parton fans, and Christians. And you'd be right. Yet this movie does all sorts of things likely to alienate Christian audiences. For example, a running gag is to have the characters blurt out profanities. The audience laughs and says, "Tee Hee, it's funny because they're not supposed to say that!" But then they do that joke again, and again, and again. By the twentieth time it's not funny anymore. The film also focuses on a choir member sleeping with another choir member. Then there are numerous scenes where Olivia turns down Randy's advances because she's a 'good girl', but when they do kiss it's pretty passionate to the point that Parton has to literally pry them apart by force. Overall, I think there's enough material in here that a Christian minister probably would not feel comfortable recommending "Joyful Noise" to his congregation. So, from a business perspective, this script potentially alienates a third of its paying audience. Not a good move.
The Bottom Line:
My recommendation? Skip this movie and buy the soundtrack instead. The songs are great but you can do without the rest. I'd only recommend this movie to fans of the "Glee" TV series and die-hard fans of Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah.