Assembled from spare parts of Footloose and Sister Act, the serviceable gospel contraption Joyful Noise takes place in an economically hard-hit Georgia town, where the multiracial members of the Divinity Church Choir raise voices and spirits under the direction of their beloved choirmaster, played by Kris Kristofferson. We see him in action in church in the opening credits, though he suffers a heart attack well before “written and directed by Todd Graff ” hits the screen. He’s dead within seconds. Graff, who made Camp and Bandslam, has a lot of plot to wrangle, and he does not waste time.
Vi Rose, played by Queen Latifah, takes over the choir. The nurse who takes no sass from anyone has two teenagers, a son (Dexter Darden) with Asperger’s, and a choir-standout daughter (Keke Palmer), whom the rebellious, hunky-yet-sensitive grandson ( Jeremy Jordan) of the choirmaster’s rich widow G.G. (Dolly Parton) really, really likes, a development Vi really, really does not.
Vi and G.G. are a catfight waiting to happen, and when it does — in a restaurant where Vi works a second gig — dinner rolls are tossed, headlocks are initiated, and then later fences are mended and the choir heads to Los Angeles for the national Joyful Noise Competition. Their finale is a consider able one, listed in the credits as “The Higher Medley,” blending “I Want to Take You Higher,” “Forever,” “Yeah!” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.”
The movie’s all right, if you can take its rampant artificiality — and I’m not even talking about Parton’s face yet. Here’s what I liked. I liked Latifah’s rendition of the traditional spiritual “Fix Me Jesus,” sung when her character’s at a low point ( Jesse L. Martin plays her husband, away in the military), and the expression of yearning and sadness makes effective dramatic sense. It’s not a big moment, merely an honest one. Palmer’s a strong, steadily developing performer, but she can lay claim to only so much of this rangy, busy picture.
So, Parton’s face. Graff ’s script makes several, inevitable references to how many plastic surgery procedures G.G. has undergone. In her live appearances,
Parton’s the first to make fun of the relentless work she has had done, above and below the neck, as she has aged. (She turns 66 later this month.) But she didn’t get what she paid for; the top half of her face doesn’t seem to match up with the bottom half. It’s as if Parton did her latest work in a drive through (“Gimme the Leona Helmsley, with a side of Meg Ryan!”) in a hurry. Audiences still adore Parton, for good reason: Her vocals hold up, and that 4-foot-11-inch frame remains like no other human’s, whatever the component parts. But the cast of Joyful Noise is dealing with adequate material, at best, and the noise is more dutiful than joyful.
—MCT, Tribune Media Service Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org