Sister Act meets Burlesque in the American south. As loglines go, Joyful Noise has a doozy. Throw in country music superstar Dolly Parton (Steel Magnolias) and rapper-turned-actress Queen Latifah (Hairspray) and it’s almost as if the filmmakers were making a film designed specifically for my own heart. That the finished product from director Todd Graff (Camp) is somewhat underwhelming, undercooked, and under-written is disappointing, but that doesn’t stop the film having a delightful spirit that comes through loud and clear even when the direction doesn’t seem to care much about anything. Anything other than allowing Parton and Latifah to do their thing in between catchy gospel/soul ditties and cutesy simplified teen romance of its younger leads (Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan), of course.
It’s no wonder that Joyful Noise has gone direct-to-DVD in Australia. Local audiences have never quite responded to films about African American culture or the pro-religion films that frequently dot the American box office chart. This blending of the two is a decidedly vanilla take on both, but probably far too niche of a product for Australian cinemas. While nothing excited me more than the prospect of seeing Dolly Parton back on the big screen – having graced it so rarely since her film debut in 1980’s 9 to 5 – Joyful Noise is in actual fact the exact sort of movie that is most enjoyable on a Friday evening stuck on the couch.
Joyful Noise is another one of those movies – the upcoming Pitch Perfect is yet another perfect example – where the spotlight gets put upon the competitive world of a boutique musical outlet. This time? Choir singing! If it weren’t for movies, would we ever be aware of regional, state, and national competitions for choirs, or acapella groups, or dancers who infuse ballet with hip-hop? After the death of her husband (a seemingly mind-altered Kris Kristofferson), Parton’s GG Sparrow expects to be given the directorial position of her church’s successful, if dry and formulaic, choir. She is proven wrong, however, when Latifah’s Vi Rose gets the job and their bitter rivalry threatens to demolish the choir before they get a chance to sing one note. When Vi’s daughter and GG’s grandson decide they’ve got googly eyes for one another, things can only get worse. And I haven’t even mentioned the scene where Parton throws bread rolls and spaghetti at Latifah during a heated restaurant argument!
In between all of this is the real reason anybody would and should watch the film. The musical numbers are perhaps little more than Glee Goes Gospel, but spirited renditions of pop hits like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher”, traditional gospel, and even a heartfelt original song by Parton titled “From Here to the Moon and Back” are enjoyable feasts. As always, the final competition number is a rousing piece that justifies the feel good happy ending that gets promised all along, even though it’s filmed through gaudy blues and purples. At a thoroughly stretched out 118 minutes it is inarguably too long, but at least you get bang for your buck. Joyful Noise won’t be a film to enter the recurring viewing schedule like the aforementioned Sister Act and Burlesque, but its heart is in the right place and that’s more than can be said about the many cynical, cold-hearted attempts at crass commercialism that flood today’s multiplex.
Joyful Noise is out now on DVD and Blu-ray through Warner Bros.
Director: Todd Graff
Cast: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Dexter Darden, Courtney B Vance,
Jesse L Martin and Kris Kristofferson