Joyful Noise Directed by: Todd Graff Cast: Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan Running Time: 1 hr 57 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 13, 2012
PLOT: Two members (Pardon and Latifah) of a church struggle for power to control the famous gospel choir, which has nationwide champion potential.
WHO'S IT FOR? Arriving during the peak reign of Generation "Glee," Joyful Noise is narrowly targeted towards fans of musicals and gospel music. Fans of Dolly Parton and/or Queen Latifah might enjoy seeing the actresses on-screen again, but will be disappointed by both the lack of chemistry between the duo, and the entire boring experience of Joyful Noise.
EXPECTATIONS: Even with a musical released in January, there's still room for a critical surprise. After catching a whiff from the cast list of the type of special movie this might be, I avoided trailers and any other form of information about this movie.
Dolly Parton as G.G Sparrow: Appearing for the first time in a major role in about twenty years, Dolly Parton succumbs to the nature of her first name by resembling a doll, stiff physical movements and train wreck make-up and all. In the role of "rich old white lady" Parton tries to convey some awareness of her ridiculous presence, but it doesn't change the fact that here she's a novelty, a caricature of the high-watt star presence she had in brighter days. Score: 3
Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill: While everyone else is flying around Joyful Noise and losing their minds, Latifah's character is meant to be the stubborn matriarch with her feet planted in the earth. She stands her ground with her sass, and her love for the guy in the sky. Latifah has a decent, if not sludgy solo musical moment when she sings "Fix Me, Jesus" to herself in a barren church. Score: 4
Keke Palmer as Olivia Hill: As the religious girl who hesitates to escape from her shell of prudeness, Palmer puts her tear ducts to work. She delivers a couple of whiny speeches against her mother Vi Rose, which are sometimes preceded by moments of sass. Like Jordan, she can sing. She too, however, is caught up in the awkward silliness of the story, left toying with a dull presentation of a teenager that ultimately preaches how to raise kids to Latifah's parental choir. Score: 4
Jeremy Jordan as Randy Garrity: Concerning hoodlums who are constantly barreling through the other side of the tracks, Jordan's character Randy, grandson of G.G, is a tame variation, and a boring one. Jordan prevents Randy from being complete vanilla with his natural singing talent, but his musical time hardly erases the dullness he perpetuates in dramatic or romantic sequences. Score: 4
TALKING: Joyful Noise abuses the luxury of dialogue by constantly pretending it is some type of super glue that can hold a story together whilst fill in any hole it makes for itself. When someone questions the gospel group's preparedness, another person says, "We've been sneaking in some extra rehearsals!" which we did not witness, nor have any clue such events were happening. Or, later someone mentions that "We should do the arrangements Randy wrote!" even though we were never clued into such ability before this line. Noise aims for some giddy sass and achieves silliness one-liners from Latifah and Parton, who say, "You are a falling rock zone," and "You're happier than a puppy wagging two tails," respectively. Whether it's rushing to develop characters or situations or give Latifah/Pardon fans something new to bark at those who will skip this miserable movie, the dialogue represents who egregiously rushed this entire production really is. Score: 3
SIGHTS: Displaying great indifference, some drastically different scenes within Joyful Noise are pieced together with little respect for tone. A scene that starts with a funeral is followed by one at a club, which is then followed by a bed-pan dropped moment of nursing at the hospital. These moments are not united by a montage, but more a director trying to mash puzzle pieces that don't fit together. Director Todd Graff's laziness must have inspired by the back-up band for the film's focused gospel choir, as that is the laziest back-up guitarist I have ever seen. Just strum the damn thing, bro. Score: 3
SOUNDS: The Joyful Noise offers a fair amount of material to satisfy Generation "Glee," with gospel covers of "Man in the Mirror," "Maybe I'm Amazed," and even "Signed, Sealed, Delivered." Dolly Parton is able to throw in a purely country tune with the kind of pretty ballad "From Here to the Moon." Score: 4
BEST SCENE: "From Here to the Moon" takes off as a pretty country song that could stand on its own, even if all DVD copies of Joyful Noise are eventually turned into charcoal. It has a nice melody, the lyrics are country corny enough, and Kris Kristofferson even has a part in it. This sequence's script alone would lend itself nicely to a schmaltzy music video.
ENDING: The absent father returns to the church, and Dolly Parton sings about making a "joyful noise" as the movie finally ends.
QUESTIONS: You can read my interview with Jeremy Jordan in a few days when it is posted.
REWATCHABILITY: Though it sounds pretty delectable for a bad movie trash dive, Joyful Noise is a straining experience, and doesn't offer a consistent amount of campy giggles especially when compared to the minutely more watchable Burlesque. A second viewing of this movie would lack the joy expected from even a first viewing.
Joyful Noise cuts corners as much as it can, and rushes to get through its story (despite the movie feeling longer than its two-hour running time). Writer/director Graff's indifference to the material is a giant elephant in room, joining the other elephant of how recklessly silly this entire movie seems to be, though no one seems to be aware of that. At least Burlesque gave us some hope in that regard.
Even with the subject of faith, Graff uses the strangest examples to show that, as the Blues Brothers put it, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." His example of a woman finding love after a tragedy would fit in the far-fetched territories of campy fare, but here in a movie in which Latifah's character is literally promoting love of God, such a story seems insulting to the goal of any real message.
Though it focuses on gospel music more than the religion that inspires such tunes, Joyful Noise hardly has any special place in its heart for the genre. The film has no problem promoting non-religious tunes like "Yeah!" by Usher (with cheesy religious lyrics) and defying the more traditional forms of gospel. On top of this, there is little appreciation for the specific construction behind a decent gospel choir. Those harmonies don't just happen naturally, and small town musicians would never make such an immediately tight band.
The unique attribute of Joyful Noise, the pairing of Latifah and Parton, makes for spark-less chemistry. We're too bored with them to even care whether they are acting in certain chapters as enemies or not. A scene in which Parton and Latifah get into a physical altercation is extremely unnecessary, and either desperate for an amused giggle or indifferent to make such a clash remotely memorable.
Joyful Noise is an awkwardly forced movie that nearly murders all passion within gospel music. Characters, songs, and the movie's spiritual potential all share a value of zero from Todd Graff, who would clearly rather be elsewhere, preaching something else completely different. Even Tyler Perry is more passionate about his stupid sh*tty movies.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10