Joyful Noise is a musically sugar-coated, feel-good movie that desperately tries to raise audiences to the rafters, but unfortunately, ends up often times remaining in the pew. The plot’s simple enough: a determined choir from a small town in Georgia aiming to win a national choir competition against all odds (Sister Act or Fighting Temptations, anyone?) Although a bit predictable, there are some surprises and a handful of laughs that make Joyful Noise a pleasant enough feel-good movie to enjoy with your PG-13 family.
The first surprise is Kris Kristofferson in a choir robe. He looks strangely out of place in this outfit, directing the church’s music team—and the writer’s must’ve known it too; a heart attack later, Kris is out and it’s up to the pastor (Courtney B. Vance) to find a replacement choirmaster. The two logical choices are church rivals: Kristofferson’s wife G. G. Sparrow (played by Dolly Parton) and Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah). G. G. is a wealthy church lady who uses money and influence to get her way, while Vi Rose is the hardworking “single” mom raising two teenagers. (She is “single” because her husband is serving in the military, and everyone hopes he’ll return.) The two women jealously disagree on everything, especially the direction the choir should go. G. G. thinks Vi Rose is dull, unimaginative, and stuck in her old traditions, and Vi Rose thinks that G. G. is a spoiled diva. Vi Rose ends up winning the position
Watching these two women verbally spar is fun to watch, and the quick-witted lines come fast and furious whenever they share the screen. These scenes are by far the best parts of the film, and Dolly’s self-deprecating humor is also enjoyable. At one point she claims, “I am who I am.” To which Vi responds, “Maybe you were… five procedures ago.” Dolly gets the last laugh when she claims, “Who cares if I’ve had a few little nips and tucks? God didn’t make plastic surgeons so they could starve.”
Further tensions arise between the women when G.G.’s good-looking bad boy grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), falls for Vi Rose’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer). Vi Rose’s son, Walter (Dexter Darden), has Asperger’s—and Randy takes him under his wing to teach him piano (and other life lessons), because after all, Randy’s not really a bad guy.
There’s a subplot involving two other choir members who fall in love (and bed) which is played strictly for laughs, taking the film into PG-13 territory. The movie could’ve skipped this whole sidebar, which does nothing to further the story. Another subplot involves a boy who’s in love with Olivia and jealous of her attention to Randy, (who’s implausibly redeemed through his music and joining the choir), and is never fully resolved.
All of these characters infuse life into this small church choir, which is held back musically by the traditional-minded Pastor Dale and Vi Rose. If only they would expand their horizons, then maybe the choir could predictably, go all the way to the top…
Director Todd Graff stages the music scenes well, even if a tad unrealistic, and the renditions of the songs are wonderful—although I wondered why secular music was used to such an extent for the church worship songs. These included material by Michael Jackson, Billy Preston and Paul McCartney—there are plenty of great Christian worship songs that would’ve been more fitting. There’s a nice turn by Queen Latifah with an appearance by Kirk Franklin, but unfortunately the finale song presents a message that the only way to instill life and power in worship (and take you higher) is through secular music from the 60’s.
In the end, the film is harmless enough, and there are many positive messages spread throughout: messages of hope, family values, being the person God created you to be, and others. The film is peppered liberally with many laughs and will pull at the heartstrings, and is relatively wholesome entertainment you can enjoy with your PG-13 family. Watch it with them and use it as a discussion starter.
For more details about Joyful Noise, check out the Christian Film Database.