out of Five
Running time: 118
Joyful Noise has lively musical numbers and predictably enjoyable performances from Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, but it's let down by a meandering, unfocussed script, some poor direction and a handful of missed opportunities.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Todd Graff, Joyful Noise is set in present-day Pacashau, Georgia and stars Dolly Parton as G.G. Sparrow, a member of the local church gospel choir whose nose is put out of joint when rival singer Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) is asked to become director of the choir following the death of G.G.'s husband (Kris Kristofferson in what must be one of the world's shortest cameos), the previous choir director. With a gospel championship looming on the horizon, Vi Rose insists that the group stick to traditional gospel arrangements, which leads to clashes with G.G. and various other members of the group.
Meanwhile, to make matters worse, G.G.'s bad boy grandson Randy (Broadway star Jeremy Jordan) rolls into town and immediately starts eyeing up Vi Rose's 16 year old daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer). However, when Randy is persuaded to join the choir, further clashes ensue as he has some suggestions on how to liven up the group's performances.
With a film like Joyful Noise (and its spiritual ancestor, Sister Act), a large part of your enjoyment is going to depend on your fondness for gospel music, particularly gospel versions of pop songs. To that end, the film delivers, with rousing renditions of Maybe I'm Amazed, Signed, Sealed, Delivered and Man in the Mirror, alongside more traditional numbers; there's also a terrific act performed by the group's rivals (all children) in the climactic competition sequences.
Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah deliver pretty much exactly the performances you'd expect, sparking off each other nicely and getting in some good one-liners, not to mention giving it their all in the singing scenes. Similarly, Jordan and Palmer make a sweet (if slightly boring) couple and there's good support from Dexter Darden (as Vi Rose's Asperger's son Walter), Courtney B Vance (as the Pastor) and Angela Grovey as Earla, a choir member who's distinctly unlucky in love.
The main problem is that the script severely lacks focus, meandering all over the place and careening off on a multitude of subplots (alongside Walter and various other choir members subplots there's also the tale of Vi Rose's estranged husband), which it then fails to pay off in a satisfactory way. Similarly, the sloppy direction ensures that the film essentially bungles its big emotional moments, while the script also misses several interesting opportunities, most notably in the opportunities for clashes between Vi Rose and G.G., but also towards the end where it looks as if Vi Rose is going to give a speech that ends “Now let's get out there and BEAT THOSE KIDS!”, but bottles it at the last minute.
Joyful Noise does indeed deliver joyful noise, but it's ultimately let down by a sloppy script and some poor direction.