JOYFUL NOISE has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately its like a neighbor with his or her heart in the right place, the one who responds to news of your car breaking down by volunteering to drive you somewhere and accidentally runs over your cat while backing out of the driveway. Not even Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton singing their hearts out, and make no mistake about that being quite an experience, can make up for either situation, though Partons form-fitting version of a choir robe has an ironic campiness.
The script is a holy hot mess of digressions and non-sequitors clinging desperately to a story that tries to be all things to all people. A dash of social consciousness, a whiff of social commentary, and a heaping helping of cornpone family problems rendered with a broad brush and little insight. Latifah is Vi Rose, the newly promoted church choir director with an absent husband (Jessie L. Martin), a son, Walter (Dexter Darden), with the conveniently musical form of Aspergers, and a daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), on the verge of womanhood, the which is cultivated by a suitably unsuitable pair of suitors. Olivia is also a soloist with the choir, which also boasts G.G. (Parton) as another soloist and the rich widow of the previous choir director (Kris Kristofferson getting star billing for less than 10 minutes of screen time). Naturally G.G. expected the promotion for herself and there is a feud with Vi Rose, naturally there is the clash between Vi Rose and the churchs pastor (Courtney B. Vance), who favor the old ways of choir singing, and G.G., who favors and the new, high-energy, decidedly secular way of shaking things up to win the inevitable finals of the church choir singing competition.. And naturally G.G.s , Randy (Jeremy Jordan), the bad boy from New York (of course) is one of Olivias suitors, the she she likes better.
Continuity, consistency of character, and logic, external or internal, are eschewed in the mad grab to introduce as many socially relevant and/or emotionally overwrought floodgates as possible. Then its a mad dash to the finish line where all those conflicts are revealed for the shams that they were, and loose ends are thrown to the four winds of careless writing where they wave sadly in the winds of the coming cinematic apocalypse that includes a physical throwdon between Latifah and Parton involving dinner rolls and punches carefull pulled so that they don’t mess with Dolly’s hair and makeup.
The singing is great. Palmer tears up the screen with a robust voice and a fine sense of dramatic delivery that never feels canned. The same can be said for Latifah and Parton as they sing separately and together in a series of music videos, both high-energy and sentimental, that showcase what they do best. The acting from these veterans, who know how play to a camera without seeming to, is better than the hackneyed, folksy dialogue with which they are weighed down.
JOYFUL NOISE would find a better perch as a series of music videos rather than the cheap effort at profundity on offer.