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Joyful Noise – Sing hallelujah!

Joyful Noise - Theater Review
Release Date: 01/13/2012 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 4 Clacks

'Joyful Noise' may be simplistic in its storytelling, but the performances and the music more than make up for any of the script's shortcomings.

Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in "Joyful Noise

The small town of Pacashau, Georgia, has fallen on hard times, but the people are counting on the Divinity Church Choir to lift their spirits by winning the National Joyful Noise Competition. The choir has always known how to sing in harmony, but the discord between its two leading ladies now threatens to tear them apart. Their newly appointed director, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah), stubbornly wants to stick with their tried-and-true traditional style, while the fiery G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton) thinks tried-and-true translates to tired-and-old. Shaking things up even more is the arrival of G.G.’s rebellious grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan). Randy has an ear for music, but he also has an eye for Vi Rose’s beautiful and talented daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), and the sparks between the two teenagers are causing even more friction between G.G. and Vi Rose. If these two strong-willed women can put aside their differences for the good of the people in their town, they–and their choir–may make the most joyful noise of all.

I’ve been around long enough to know by now that the movies that get stuck with a January release date are usually not all that great. There have been a few exceptions to that rule, but generally you can pretty much count out the January films as being “must see.” But, every once in a while, a film comes along that you feel will be a dog and it totally catches you off guard. For me, Joyful Noise is one of those movies. It’s not a great movie by any means, full of cliches, stereotypes, and more than enough schmaltz to tug … no, yank on your heartstrings in the hopes of wringing out a few tears here and there. You can almost think of this as Glee: The Gospel Episode.

But this sometimes cynical movie-goer found something endearing about the whole enterprise, and yes, I did find myself wiping away a few tears at just the right moments. Sometimes I can be an old softie. The movie works not because of its by-the-numbers script, but because of the casting. Dolly Parton herself admits she’s not much of an actress, and you never once forget that you’re watching Dolly Parton, but she gives the role of G.G. a down-to-earth realness even with all of the outlandish (for a small Georgian town) hair and makeup. That’s not to say you ever forget you’re watching Queen Latifah either, but she also brings a nice earthiness to the harried mother of two (the son has Aspergers Syndrome) with a husband (Jesse L. Martin) who keeps running off to the military when things at home get tough. Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan also come off as real teens and they do have some nice chemistry. Now, the choir members may be a bit over-the-top and one cliché after another, but that’s what you get with the comic relief roles.

Of course, the main selling point of the movie is the singing, and what glorious singing there is. “Man in the Mirror” has become one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs, and Palmer and the choir just raise the roof of the church with their rendition … and made my eyes well up with the beauty of the voices and the emotion Palmer put into the song. Latifah’s solo, “Fix Me Jesus,” is also lovely as she sings alone in the church late at night. There’s a very cool bit of direction during the number as the camera dollies around Latifah at a piano to reveal the formerly empty stage filled with a “heavenly” choir. And Dolly also has a beautiful solo, a love song that G.G. and her late husband used to sing and waltz in the yard to, “From Here to the Moon and Back.” The moment was heartachingly beautiful as G.G. and her grandson sang the song in the present as her memories played out before her (and our) eyes. I get all verklempt just thinking about it!

The plot of Joyful Noise is simple, to be sure, and it won’t win any awards (although Parton’s songs may be up for some here and there), but it accomplishes what it set out to do, and that is entertain for a couple of hours. This is a movie that you can just sit back and enjoy and forget about your troubles, and who knows, maybe the world will seem a little brighter afterwards.


Photo Credit: Warner Brothers

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