“Joyful Noise”
OK, so it’s corny. I still liked it. For the believer, especially, it features some astounding aspects seldom seen in modern cinema: sincere faith, ongoing church participation, a choir that rocks, a minister who, though human, is still recognized as an authority figure and not some hypocritical sleazeball, good-natured humor, and some lovely sacred music, sweetly delivered. OK, so there’s a few slang words, and a little uncomfortable teenage rebellion, and some small-minded small-town parochialism. Get over it. These are the necessary counterpoints. We 21st-century churchgoers can hardly ask for more out of an increasingly secular and cynical Hollywood .
Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton play a couple of small-town matrons on a collision course. They’ve sung in the same church choir together for years, but their esteemed leader---Kris Kristofferson, whoda thunk it?---dies, suddenly, and while his wife, G.G. (Parton) would like to assume his responsibilities, the Pastor, and the Board, pick Vi Rose (Latifah) instead, thinking she can take the choir to the next level in the annual competition. (Never mind that church choirs rarely compete, considering that it’s not a performance, anyway, it’s their offering to the Lord----which, by definition, doesn’t need to be compared to other’s offerings.) But the looming competition, of course, encourages everyone to work together harder, and also to look realistically at what they’re missing---come to think of it, competing might be a good thing for many church choirs.
In pacing and format, “Joyful Noise” feels like an old-fashioned musical. Every once in a while, right in the middle of the dialogue, somebody is likely to break out into song. And we have a lot of talented singers to enjoy---notably Keke Palmer and Josh Jordan, who together are also the main love interest (thank goodness we’ve moved past even noticing the fact that one is black and the other is white). The real issue here is that Vi Rose thinks that G.G.’s grandson has been around the block too many times to be a good candidate to court her precious, innocent baby girl. Vi Rose’s husband has been in the Army, mostly overseas, and she’s had to do the child-rearing herself, which has been particularly difficult for her son with Asperger’s---but now she’s self-reliant to a fault, because she doesn’t seem to listen very well to anyone around her (which is also part of the reason her husband re-enlisted). Yes, we need some relational tension to offset all that saccharine.
“Joyful Noise” is predictably a showcase for established stars Latifah and Parton---each get solos that clearly do not advance the plot, but just plain give them the opportunity to perform---but “Joyful Noise” clicks best when the whole choir sings, because they’re unafraid to be exuberant together. The musical arrangements vary from traditional sacred to smooth pop, but it’s altogether wholesome, and very pleasant to the ear and eye. Of course it won’t win any Academy Awards, but who cares? This is truly a family movie where the Christians are actually presented in a winsome light. And that’s one worth noting.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Interim Pastor, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas