My neighbor is a borderline Christian extremist. When she’s not bashing homosexuality or quoting the Bible, she particularly enjoys listening to gospel music and watching Tyler Perry movies. Once, being the self-appointed film snob I am, I asked about her obsession with the Madea series. She applauded the franchise’s family-friendly and pro-God morals — completely oblivious to how contrived they really are. That being said, Joyful Noise is a film she’d enjoy. Directed and written by Todd Graff, the film is crafted with a distinct holiness and stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton — yes, the Dolly Parton, in her first role in twenty-years — as Vi Rose Hill and G.G. Sparrow respectively, two feuding choir members of the usually tight-knit Pacashau Sacred Divinity Church.
The sparks start flying after the passing of ensemble director and the latter’s husband, Bernie (Kris Kristofferson). They intensify when Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) chooses Hill over G.G. (who happens to be the parish’s largest donor) as his replacement. Contributing to the rift between the two families, Sparrow’s rebellious grandson, Randy, visits town and sets his sight on Rose’s daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer). But, can winning the local gospel competition — a frenzy of foot-tapping audiences and high spirits — return the community to its former glory? Unfortunately, the tired storytelling doesn’t leave much to the imagination and, chances are, you already know the answer to that.
Despite drawing inspiration from his childhood, Graff has an awkward fascination with having his characters speak in Christ-induced metaphors. More than once do his characters compare themselves to mice drawn to a piece of cheese (interestingly enough, always in a different context). And that isn’t the half of it — the screenplay for Joyful Noise is simply built on conventions. Expectedly, we discover that Vi’s bitterness stems from elsewhere: Her beau’s decision to reenlist in the Army. And, to drive home the God-is-our-savior moral, her son, Walter (Dexter Darden), who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, goes on an angry tirade questioning the Lord’s design. In the end, it’s the goody-goody characters — all kept at bay by the clichés that define them — who never allow the plot to escalate to anything more than a glorified pillow fight.
There are even mentions of the economic climate. However, the director’s use of close-ups to focus in on propped-up foreclosure signs and storefronts being boarded-up, accompanied by his dramatic scores, make them come off as forced. Plus, he continuously shoves it down our throats, hoping that the protagonists’ faith somehow inspires us.
If nothing else, the chemistry between Parton and Latifah is decent. Sure, they’re embroiled in a corny screenplay, but both have charisma. Part of it’s from their ability to laugh at themselves. During a restaurant catfight, possibly the film’s best scene, they megaphone each other’s idiosyncrasies — with jabs being thrown at Dolly’s countless cosmetic surgeries and ridiculous hairstyles and Queen’s heftiness. But it’s all in good fun and must’ve taken an incredibly amount of confidence to do. That translates to the musical numbers, which are completely driven by the duo (though Palmer has a fantastic voice).
It’s by sheer coincidence that, last Friday, “The Devil Inside,” which starred Satan at the crux, reaped my disdain, but this week, Joyful Noise, an ode to the Heavens, earns the same end of my rating stick.