When I first saw the trailer for Joyful Noise, I did a double take.
“Did I just watch the trailer for a movie starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton?” I posted on Facebook, demanding that someone corroborate what I witnessed on my TV while watching (probably) The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I did a quick Google search and discovered that my eyes had not, in fact, deceived me — this movie existed and would be opening soon in a theater near me. I immediately decided that I had to see it. I adore Dolly Parton (though it really bums me out that she’s had so much work done that she looks a lot like Madame these days) and putting her in a film with Latifah could make for a wildly good time.
Written and directed by Todd Graff (Camp), Joyful Noise tells the story of a small-town Georgia church choir that, after the untimely death of its director, Bernard (Kris Kristofferson), is taken over by its assistant director, Vi Rose Hill (Latifah), despite the fact that Bernard’s widow, G.G. (Parton) is a member of the choir and one of the church’s biggest benefactors. Vi Rose prefers a traditional approach to gospel, and she is quickly at odds with the rest of the choir members, including G.G. and Vi’s teenage daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), who want the choir’s sound to evolve into something more contemporary. Enter G.G.’s troubled teen grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), who is a talented pianist and singer and who agrees with his grandmother that the choir needs a more modern sound. Randy also has the hots for Olivia, much to the chagrin of Vi Rose, who doesn’t want her daughter dating anyone, especially the grandson of her nemesis.
Eventually, Vi Rose agrees to let the choir do more modern, pop-inspired songs, in hopes that they will help the choir win a coveted first-place finish at the annual Joyful Noise choir competition. However, the church’s pastor (Courtney B. Vance) does not approve of the choir’s new direction and tells them if they don’t revert to their more traditional sound, the church will withdraw its sponsorship of them, leaving them unable to compete at Joyful Noise. This riles up G.G. and Vi Rose, who, despite their differences, decide to work together to make the choir’s dream come true.
Is this movie heavy-handed, with dialogue that, most of the time, sounds like a mash-up of every T.G.I.F. sitcom of the ’90s? Yes. Is its humor broad, predictable and stereotypical? Yes. Does it misuse the great Jesse L. Martin, who plays Vi’s estranged husband, by not allowing him to sing or dance even once? Yes. Do I think you should see it anyway? Yes, but only if you go into it knowing that all of these things are true. You must go into this film with the desire to see Latifah and Parton (side note: if I were a drag queen, I would choose Latifah Parton as my drag name) try to out-sass each other. You must not expect cinematic genius in any form — just have fun.
Here are some random notes I jotted down while watching the film, which should help give you an idea of why it is so ridiculous, you should watch it:
- Dolly Parton’s choir robe is tailored to look like an evening gown. Of course it is.
- There are few things more wonderful in this world than watching Dolly Parton sing a Michael Jackson song.
- Akeelah can sing! (Of course I’m referring to Keke Palmer, who also starred in Akeelah and the Bee.)
- This movie is Sister Act meets Bring It On. Only, you know, without nuns and cheerleaders.
- The extras casting director deserves all the awards. The people in the audiences of the choir competitions are my favorite.
- Rick Astley! (Not really — when you see the movie, you’ll know who I’m referring to.)
- Vi’s son is the best — he likes Kajagoogoo and the Left Banke.
- LET JESSE L. MARTIN SING! Just a few bars of “La Vie Boheme” or “Santa Fe,” PLEASE? (Seriously, him not singing really disappointed me.)
Also, you should see this movie at a theater full of as many people as possible. Seriously, you guys: the audience you see this with will make or break your Joyful Noise experience. My audience was clapping, cheering and yelling at things like “mmmhmm” and “girl, please!” at the screen throughout the film. They laughed at the dumbest, most unfunny shit and, while I rolled my eyes throughout most of the movie, I liked that they were having such a good time. They were there to see it for an entirely different reason than I, the cynical, snobby pop culture writer, was — they were there to have fun at the movies. And by the end of the film, so was I.
Joyful Noise opens nationwide today.