Joyful Noise – Amazing Music Balances Hokum!

Joyful Noise

Joyful Noise is a cornball tale of fangless feuding, remarkably innocent first love and amazing music.

When the choir master of the Pacashau Divinity Church Choir [Kris Kristofferson] dies following the choir winning the regional files, his widow, G.G. Sparrow [Dolly Parton] and the choir’s newly promoted director, Vi Rose Hill [Queen Latifah] try to impose their will on each – Vi Rose to continue using more traditional arrangements of the choir’s gospel music; G.G. to get Vi rose to introduce some funkier new arrangements.

At the same time, Vi Rose’s sixteen-year old daughter, Olivia [Keke Palmer] and G.G.’s bad boy grandson Randy [Jeremy Jordan] become rather taken with each other. [Part of Vi Rose’s objection to the new arrangements is that they come from Randy…]

There are complications from other sources, too: the church’s pastor, Pastor Dale [Courtney B. Vance] is not really that welcoming of change; one of the women in the choir, Earla [Angela Grovey] comes to fear that she will never find a man after a one-stand winds up with the man dying; the complications of Vi rose raising a son, Walter [Dexter Darden] with Asperger’s Syndrome; a would-be playa named Manny [Paul Woolfolk] who has his sights set on Olivia…

Joyful Noise

The non-musical parts of the film remind of Oklahoman corn [‘the grow grows as high as an elephant’s eye], but Parton and Latifah’s conviction goes a long way to mitigating that. Both Jordan and Palmer have terrific voices that work well together [Maybe I’m Amazed], but they are lacking in the chemistry department.

Oddly enough, Jordan and Darden exhibit chemistry as Randy decides that the way to win Vi Rose over is to help Walter with some of his phobias – and teach him piano. He goes a long way to winning Walter over by singing Walter’s favorite one-hit wonder [Walk Away Renee by The Left Banke], and sure enough Vi Rose does seem to be mellowing – until Randy takes Olivia on a road trip to give her a surprise [a good one; this isn’t that kind of movie!].

Where Joyful Noise really kicks it is with the music. Whether traditional arrangements [Not Enough, Man in the Mirror], or funkified [Higher Medley reimagining tunes by Sly & The Family Stone, Chris Brown, Usher and Stevie Wonder in a more spiritual context], the music is outstanding. Parton contributes three new songs as well, and is in fine voice [she may be the country equivalent of Tina Turner – at sixty-six, she still has the chops she had at thirty].

Written and directed by Todd Graff [Camp, Bandslam], Joyful Noise has a few misfires, but the music is infectious and quite capable of inducing a euphoric state. Even if you’re not usually a fan of old-fashioned corn, chances are you’ll leave the theater humming one of the tunes and grinning from ear to ear.

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Photos by Van Redin