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Review: ‘Joyful Noise’

Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in 'Joyful Noise'
Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in 'Joyful Noise'

Women usually get the shaft in Hollywood, so it’s refreshing to see that Todd Graff’s Joyful Noise presents its story from the perspective of strong female characters. A musical comedy, Joyful Noise is set in the modern-day small town of Pacashau, Georgia, where the residents enjoy multi-racial peace and harmony, despite harsh economic conditions that have forced the closure of many local businesses.

As the film gets underway, church choir director Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) unexpectedly dies during a performance, leaving a vacancy that the church decides to fill with Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah), the longtime assistant director. G.G. (Dolly Parton), Bernard’s widow, is none too pleased, since she coveted the position and is a longtime rival of Vi Rose.

Vi Rose is resistant to change, which frustrates her teenage daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer), who is a magnificent gospel singer with a burning desire to sing modern pop tunes. Trouble comes to town with the arrival of Randy (Jeremy Jordan), G.G.’s grandson, who’s been kicked out by his mother. He’s immediately attracted to Olivia and, what do you know, he too is a great vocalist with a burning desire to sing modern pop songs! How will they adapt to change? Is there any future for a relationship forged during such musically divisive times?

Joyful Noise is resolutely conservative, teaching respect for all authority figures, especially parents, and God, who is evidently OK with premarital sex for adults and profanity for all. It’s very much a religiously-infused film, with characters stopping to pray on a regular basis and invoking God when making decisions and questioning their paths in life. As noted, sex is OK for consenting adults of legal age; the teens in the film must be satisfied with kissing in public.

The story functions as a framework for the musical numbers, which are divided among the main characters in very equitable fashion — both Vi Rose and G.G. get to do solos, for example — with the highlights intended to rouse audiences. The movie played very well to its target audience at an advance screening, but is unlikely to convert any non-believers (i.e. folks who are not religiously-inclined gospel / pop music lovers).

What stuck with me, however, was the interracial love on display without comment. Randy is Caucasian and Olivia is African-American, and no one in the small Southern town cares about their racial differences. When an African-American teen challenges Randy, it’s not because of the color of his skin, but because his manhood has been called into question (he thinks). Neither does anyone make a big deal of the racial differences between at least two other couples; each has problems that have nothing to do with race.

— From my review at Twitch.

‘Joyful Noise’ opens wide across the Metroplex today.