Director: Todd Graff
Starring: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson
Running Time: 118 min
Release Date: 29 June
This film requires incredible patience. Patience to sit through endless turns of phrase, patience to cringe through the new Christian lyrics of dated pop songs, and patience to realise that your patience never pays off.
Joyful Noise clumsily details the travails of a church choir trying to rise from the belly of poverty stricken Georgia and reach the national finals of a gospel choir competition. Given the death of the choir’s leader, played by Kris Kristofferson, someone must take up the mantle. After the pastor gives the job to Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) instead of the wife of the former leader, G. G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), righteous outrage ensues. To stoke the flames of this bland and clichéd plot, Vi’s god-fearing daughter Olivia befriends G. G.’s trouble making, drop-out grandson Randy, who of course can teach Vi’s son with asperger syndrome to play the piano. Oh, and they can all sing incredibly well.
From the outset Joyful Noise serves as a murky pastiche of the films from which it takes inspiration. The tight religious community within which the story is based recalls the setting of Footloose, while the creepy assertiveness of the characters hammers home overtones of Glee. However, with absolutely no flow to the editing or narrative composition, the characters fall by the wayside—left to rot in the frame as lazy parodies of little known Southern stereotypes. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is almost entirely composed of colloquial witticisms and catchy sayings, leaving the audience to wonder if the characters retain any depth at all.
Respite from this fundamentalist nonsense is given only in the moments of incredibly dark humour. Richard Pryor jokes are echoed as the lonely Earla steals a night of passion with Ang, only to find him smiling, naked and dead the next morning. The speed at which the plot moves proves–in this scene alone–to be beneficial in eliciting a heavily sarcastic laugh.
Director Todd Graff has unwittingly succeeded in taking the film through a rollercoaster of characterless plot points, bringing the story from crisis to resolution every fifteen minutes, utterly destroying any form of suspension of disbelief. While Parton and Latifah make for a comical — if dated — pairing, the film is ultimately lacking in cohesion, conviction and force. The musical numbers are catchy and soulful, but only serve to pander a weak sales-point to the viewer.
Joyful Noise is a Bible Belt Glee stumbling through Footloose territory, while paying vague tribute to the Sister Act franchise. There is no ownership in this whatsoever, and a secular world will not look kindly upon it.