Sporadically pleasing as a musical but most of the time is awfully embarrassing. Joyful Noise, the gospel choir music-melodrama, boasts itself as a vehicle for Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. Following the immediate death of its choir leader, Latifah and Parton are harpies that vied for the choir director job with Latifah immediately winning the reigns. You’d think Parton would be saddled with resentment and antichrist-like revenge, but no, it’s Latifah who has the job but a chip on her shoulder. Still, Latifah has to gratuitously push Parton (with tons of plastic surgery work) over the edge, which leads to a scene of her throwing biscuits in outrage.
Biscuits to the face and smack talk. Not too joyful, are we? But it actually features a sweet love story that I got caught up in, one between Parton’s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) and Latifah’s daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer), this ensuing all the while Latifah and Parton begrudge each other. We have perhaps reached a touchstone in 2012 where a race crossed love story set in Georgia can take place without bringing up the color of skin. Randy and Olivia, with their stereo hearts, have chemistry together and so that’s that.
Of course, the screenplay formula tradition insures that an obstacle must drive Randy and Olivia apart so they can get back together again. It’s not racism, it’s the petty feelings of a jealous mother (Latifah is in full-bore control freak mode again). But jungle fever not only wins out, it’s not even brought up.
In a movie bogged by countless subplots (the bad economy, the dad who deserted the family, Asperger’s syndrome), and peppered with bad one-liners, what essentially drives the story is this Georgian church choir to prep for a national competition. You can count on Courtney B. Vance (“The Preacher’s Wife”) to play the pastor and to be boring about it, but what’s new with him?
The story is transplanted to Los Angeles for the national finals, and while the choir does sell-out, they do make some pretty boisterous music Glee-style. Jordan as Randy is a Vincent Chase type but as a baby boy clone with Usher moves. Palmer’s Olivia is a hearts-on-fire performer who over-emotes quite a bit, but you can tell that she not only feels the lyrics but the entire character in her bones. Somehow these two break love story conventions and yet come off as do-goody together. But they kept me, thankfully, from becoming bored.
Beware of the high corn content not just from them, but by everybody else, too. There was no need for this cockamamie to be two hours long. Still, your aunties and grandmothers might find this movie sweet and cute if they’re the type that likes to hum along, so with reserve, save it for them.
117 Minutes. Rated PG-13.
MUSICAL / GUILTY PLEASURES / WEEKEND CAMP
Film Cousins: “The Fighting Temptations” (2003); “Beauty Shop” (2005); “Talk to Me” (2007); “Cadillac Records” (2008).