Last week before the screening of Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey, there was a speaker from an international women’s advocacy group warning us that what we were about to see was a graphic depiction of horrid abuse against women – the film made a powerful statement, but was hard to watch. So imagine my delight to being greeted at this week’s screening with the uplifting voices of the Sharon Baptist Church Choir, performing several rousing numbers before the start of Joyful Noise.
Joyful Noise stars Queen Latifah as Vi Rose, a strong, upstanding, church-going, choir singing mother of two. Her beautiful daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer of Akeelah and the Bee) is 16 and although she still enjoys singing in the church choir, she’s also at that age where blind parental obedience has gone out the stained glass window.
Her son Walter (Dexter Darten) suffers from Asperger syndrome, a kind of autism involving social awkwardness, and often an all-absorbing interest in specific topics; in Walter’s case, pop songs from one hit wonders.
It also stars Dolly Parton as Gigi, church benefactress and wife of the choir director, Bernard (Kris Kristofferson). When Bernard unexpectedly dies, Gigi assumes she’ll be appointed choir director in his place; instead the Pastor chooses Vi to head up the choir and lead them into regionals in the Joyful Noise Choir Competition.
Although it’s hard to picture the ever buxom and lively Parton as a grandma, Gigi does get an unexpected visit from her wayward and gorgeous grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan) who’s either been kicked out or run away from home. He of course has immediate eyes for Olivia, causing even more tension in the already tenuous relationship between Vi and Gigi.
Then there’s singing! Lots and lots of enjoyable numbers, both spiritual and secular. Basically, I feel writer/director Todd Graff thought to himself: What would happen if I took some of Tyler Perry’s down home drama and mixed it with Ryan Murphy’s teen angst/songfest Glee to create a movie amalgamation?
And he was smart to do so. Okay, the book is not great; there’s some hokey lines like – “There’s always free cheese in a mouse trap, but the mice there aren’t happy.” On top of which, the other story lines weaved into the main plot, meant to add texture and a sense of place that include constant shots of boarded up stores and out of business signs alluding to our present ill-fated economy, just manage to create a very uneven script.
But so what, it’s not really important, because the movie for the most part is fun! Particularly the film’s climax at the choir competition, where we, the movie audience, are made a part of the competition audience; clapping and moving in our seats. Of course, it didn’t hurt to see this movie with a primarily African American audience, made up partly of choir people. This really did add to my feeling of elation upon leaving the theater. Still, even without that ambiance, there’s something joyous to behold in Joyful Noise.
Joyful Noise opens today in Philly-area theaters.