When the choir master from a small Georgia town unexpectedly dies, Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) takes over his duties, much to the chagrin of GG (Dolly Parton). As the choir heads into a national competition, the two clash about the choir’s direction, family and just about everything.
Let’s just get right down to it; Ireland is not the target market for Joyful Noise. There are many reviews of the film from the US, and many of them – not all – are glowing and filled with respect and admiration for the film. At the critics screening in Dublin, there were a couple of laughs – mostly in the wrong places – and when the film finally ended after 118 badly edited minutes, we were all too eager to scamper outside and forget what we had seen.
Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton play the two larger than life Southern women who go head to head for the sake of the choir. Both women speak in clichés for most of the film and, while we are given more than enough back story for both characters, neither of them really feels real or authentic. Latifah is a controlling woman who operates on a ‘my way or the highway’ policy. She controls her daughter, her son, the choir and just about anyone else she can get her hands on. It seems that Latifah has realised that her best performance was possibly in Chicago, so she is returning to a film with songs to show off her vocal talents. And she does sing well. Latifah does what she can to make the character believable, but the script is against her at every turn.
Parton is everything that Latifah’s character is not; she allows her grandson to make his own mistakes in life in order to learn from them, and when said grandson hooks up with Latifah’s daughter, she allows them to get to know one another, albeit with some supervision. It’s just a shame that Dolly Parton cannot act. She is wooden and every line she says feels as though it is being read from an autocue. There is nothing spontaneous or natural about her, and her plastic surgery – which is poked fun at – is so distracting that sometimes it is hard to focus on anything Parton is doing.
The rest of the cast are forgettable, except that one girl who can sing and the other who does the splits in the bathroom. Sigh.
The editor of Joyful Noise, Kathryn Himoff, needs to be given a stern talking to for her work on the film. For a movie that tries to be Sister Act meets Glee in a small Georgia town, there is surprisingly little focus given to the actual choir bits. Instead, after a fairly strong opening 20 minutes, the film becomes a story of relationships and personality clashes with some gospel music thrown in in the background.
Writer/Director Todd Graff, who has films such as Bandslam and Beautician and the Beast on his resume, has created a trite, uninspiring, uninteresting film that is so awkward and embarrassing that the only thing for it is to treat the film as a comedy and giggle along at it’s terribleness. Oh and the final mashup that the choir sing? Painful. Yeah by Usher is just not about god. It’s not. No matter how many of the lyrics you change.
Joyful Noise is one of the least inspired, least interesting films of the year. It is trite, clichéd and preachy and unless this is the kind of film that appeals to you – or you are a massive fan of Dolly Parton – steer clear. Very clear.