Almighty duo lifts every voice
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Jan 13, 2012
Praise the Lord for the talents of Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, because without their comedic skills and saucy portrayals, the gospel-fueled "Joyful Noise" might have descended into an overwhelming schmaltz-fest.
Times are tough for the citizens of Pacashau, Ga., and not just because the recession has shuttered most of the town's businesses. The director of the Divinity Church Choir has died, making the group's chances for top prize at the National Joyful Noise Competition look bleak. To make matters worse, the choir finds itself divided when Vi Rose Hill (Latifah) is chosen over the choir director's widow, G.G. Sparrow (Parton), to helm the group. Where Vi is a fan of old standards and traditional robes, G.G. favors modern routines with costumes that show off her well-rounded assets. It's a musical quandary that leads to vocal disputes.
To complicate things, G.G.'s grandson Randy comes to town and immediately falls for Vi's teen daughter, Olivia.
To really complicate things, Vi's son has Asperger's syndrome; her husband has arguably ditched his family to reenlist in the military; one of Olivia's suitors doesn't appreciate Randy's sudden appearance; G.G. feels lost in the wake of her husband's recent death; Olivia is going through that bratty, unappreciative phase so popular with 16-year-olds; and one of cinema's most awkward flirtations - between two choir members - ends in a one-night stand that can be described only as worst-case scenario.
It's more than enough to shake a person's faith.
Although a number of the overabundant plot points seem designed to tug heartstrings, G.G.'s and Vi's quick-witted jibes slice through the emotional narratives. The spirited music, delivered by some talented singers, also thins out the sap. And to ease in non-believers (or those apathetic toward religious ditties), many of the early ballads - Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and "Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney - are crowd-pleasers. These inevitably turn out to be gateway songs for more religious fare, even if later selections include a quite-pious version of Usher's less-than-holy "Yeah."
Writer-director Todd Graff deserves credit for occasional self-referential winks at the movie's own over-the-top sentimentality. He also thankfully addresses Parton's confounding physical features through a running joke. The lovable actress and country singer is famously open about her adventures in cosmetic surgery, but that doesn't change the fact that her hair, which appears to have been crafted from 100 scalped Barbies, and her immovable, wrinkle-free face can lead to distraction.
This is most noticeable when Parton, in a serious scene, is scripted to show emotion, something her taut face renders impossible. The actress is better served when she's dishing out hokey country aphorisms or telling her grandson to "grow a set."
The movie revolves around keeping the faith through obstacle after obstacle, but the dramedy's ultimate feel-good nature proves infectious, even for those of us whose weekend routine doesn't include a trip to church. Despite some mawkish dialogue, there's something to be said for leaving the theater with a smile. Can I get an amen?
Contains strong language, brief violence and sexual situations.