A healthy dollop of soul food is the order of the day in Joyful Noise. But this saccharine-sweet comedy may leave the more cynical among us feeling slightly queasy.
Set in the small, down-trodden town of Pacashau, Georgia, Joyful Noise tracks the discordant relationship between Vi Rose (Oscar nominee Queen Latifah) and G.G. (the legendary Dolly Parton) as they bicker over how best to guide their Divinity Church Choir to victory at the National Joyful Noise Competition. These two strong-willed leading ladies make a winning combination, and Latifah and Parton have a truly joyful chemistry on screen, sparking off one another in a series of hilariously nasty exchanges.
It is young love, however, that thrusts the story forward: G.G.’s rebellious grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) takes a shine to Vi’s beautiful but sheltered daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) and joins the choir in order to get closer to her. At first Vi vocally disapproves of their relationship, but Randy soon proves that a leopard can change its spots, teaching Olivia’s brother – who has Asperger’s Syndrome – how to play piano, and injecting the choir with the youthful energy they need to win the competition. As the relationship between the two blossoms the film starts to unravel, lurching from one mawkish, sentimental moment to another often without explanation or smooth transition between them.
This convoluted plotline is saved by the majesty of the music, particularly the stunning vocals from Palmer, Parton and Latifah. Composer and music producer Mervyn Warren plays the choir’s pianist, bringing a power and pathos to every arrangement. The choir’s medley of Sly and the Family Stone with contemporary hits from Usher and Chris Brown makes a particularly joyous, foot-tapping finale. Parton – a prolific songwriter in her own right – contributed three original numbers to the film: gospel numbers Not Enough and He’s Everything, and the romantic ballad From Here To the Moon and Back, which she sings as a duet with her late husband Bernie (country music legend Kris Kristofferson).
If you are willing to set your sweetness tolerance levels to dangerously high, Joyful Noise is a fun, feel-good, escapist piece of cinema that is kept afloat by some truly awe-inspiring musical numbers. For the more cynical viewer, however, this blend of Christian values, clean-living country folk and cutesy, accessible comedy might by a harder to stomach.
Joyful Noise opens in cinemas nationwide on 29th June.