Bottom Line: Joyful Noise isn’t at all noise, but it’s every bit too joyful.
Directed by: Todd Graff
Starring: Andy Karl, Angela Grovey, Courtney B. Vance, Dexter Darden, Dolly Parton, Jeremy Jordan, Jesse L. Martin, Keke Palmer, Kirk Franklin, Queen Latifah
Gospel music is one of the few musical genres I cannot stand listening to. Personally, I feel it’s music for God’s ears, not mine, due to the blatantly expressed praise that fall into verse in some of the most redundant ways music has faced. I must add that I’ve had to endure the genre several times throughout my life. I was genuinely delighted to find myself thoroughly enjoying the cast’s covers of previous hits, “gospel-ized”. The film falls apart mainly when struck by predictable Hollywood fluff.
I’d like to say the premise is something new, but I feel I’ve somehow seen it before. Not much about it seems original, and maybe that’s because it’s a bit of a concert behind-the-scenes movie, with gospel music. It’s a loose analogy, I’m aware, but you could easily call it This Is Gospel Tap. Of course, the religion-oriented twist would allow the story only mild ridicule and would be more targeted at those who much prefer visiting churches than rock concerts. G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton) is a sassy, sprightly, southern woman, the grandmother of a teenager named Randy (Jeremy Jordan). At church, she participates in a competitive choir and rivals massively with the director, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah), the underappreciated mother of perky teen Olivia (Keke Palmer)–also a participant in her mother’s choir–and Asperger’s-suffering Walter (Dexter Darden)–who blames his disability on God and thus refuses to listen to gospel music or participate in church. During that competition, Olivia finds herself hopelessly falling in love with Randy, as he befriends Walter and teaches him the piano.
I enjoy welcoming dramedies. I love the way they feel like entering a house I’ve never been to, with tasteful, sensory warmth. JOYFUL NOISE simply goes over the top with its fluff. It’s simply too joyful. Yes, it does have some loving wit. Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, and Jeremy Jordan, just about the only standouts the film offers regarding performances, deliver some clever one-liners, i.e. “Try’na fool me is like try’na sneak sunrise past a rooster,” “Quit it wit’ those nails, Edward Scissorhands,” and “Look, I know she’s the Wicked B–ch of the West.” In its heart, however, the musical uses cheese rather than charm. For instance: The relationship between actors Palmer and Jordan begins far too quickly, as if an exaggeration on “love at first sight”. As a result, it’s not one bit believable, nor is their any affection that we can sense. Just corn.
JOYFUL NOISE is worth a rental for anyone curious. If you are someone who is thrilled every time you hear gospel music performed at your church, it will be a sensational experience. It’s amazing how well such songs as Usher’s “Yeah!” and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”–songs that are upbeat but definitely anti-church–are formatted for the gospel genre. The film is worth watching for those numbers and a few solid performances, but it has little else to offer. A truly mixed bag.