From the opening scene of the Queen Latifah/Dolly Parton vehicle Joyful Noise — wherein a racially-diverse Georgia gospel choir complete with full musical accompaniment belts out pitch-perfect praise to the Lord above — it’s clear that this film is about one thing and one thing alone: singing. Even as Dolly Parton’s onscreen pastor husband (a none-too-noticeable cameo from the great Kris Kristofferson) passes away immediately after the primary musical number’s conclusion, the focus of the film shifts to that of song. After all, death is only something for the dead to worry about, right? At least it is in this particular Christian neighborhood.
And I mean immediately, too: right after the funeral is wrapped up (or under, perhaps), Dolly begins to butt heads (or breasts, if you prefer) with her co-star over who is to lead the now headless community choir — a spot that the new pastor (the great Courtney B. Vance) has bestowed upon Queen Latifah. From there, it’s your average story of musical rivalry, as Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton make snide comments to one another — an enmity that ironically occurs in many a Christian community — and which escalates when Dolly’s grandson (Broadway performer Jeremy Jordan) arrives from the city and falls for the Queen’s daughter (Keke Palmer).
Various dramatic moments come and go throughout this fast-paced film, few of which linger with their protagonists longer than a couple of minutes after they have concluded. Its almost like a weekly program about faith and family was condensed into one feature film, with all of the genuine emotions removed for the sake of timing. In short, despite all of the hearts it tosses at you, Joyful Noise is surprisingly hollow — a great example is when Jordan befriends Latifah’s autistic savant son –played by Dexter Darden — their bond is established, and the film budges to another subject, abandoning the subplot altogether.
It happens a lot in this film, actually. Characters are brought out of their shells, only to blend into the background shortly afterward. Like I said, this movie is solely about music. As you’d expect from a movie about a gospel choir competing for the finals, a feeling of purposelessness that occasionally reminds you that “God is Good” for all the Christian families this one was probably made for. Todd Graff (yes, the guy who brought us The Beautician and the Beast with Fran Drescher) crafts this empty miracle that was filmed entirely in the state of Georgia.
Warner Brothers releases this paint-by-numbers flick with a better-than-average HD transfer and a boisterous DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack that will definitely fill up the room with music if that’s what you’re looking for. A Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included, as are subtitles in English (SDH), Spanish, and French. The Region Free Blu-ray release also includes several fleeting bonus items, the longest of which is a collection of extended songs (which are only presented here in Stereo).
In short: there’s not much to be found in Joyful Noise. My hat goes off to Graff for creating his blissful, multicultural universe (well, Georgia) where the color of one’s skin does not matter when it comes to life and love, but it’s a damn shame he didn’t give his characters any actual life or love in the process.