Synopsis: Two women join forces to prevent a small-town gospel choir from shutting down.
Stars: Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Kris Kristofferson
Director: Todd Graff
Running Length: 118 minutes
Random Crew Highlight: Libra Operator – Kenny Rivenbark (I’ve always felt those Libra’s had a string-puller…)
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: I open this review with an admission of personal bias: I love Dolly Parton. Always have, always will. You have to be able to put aside the plastic surgery and large, um, assets and just agree that she’s pretty darn talented to understand where I’m coming from. It also helps explain while I was more than a little excited for her new movie…and first starring role in over a decade. Seeing her in concert this summer, she spoke highly of the experience and it sounded like a fun and harmless outing for her and Queen Latifah. Ultimately, that’s what Joyful Noise is…harmless. It’s no masterpiece or of much note at all but it does have its moments.
These movies are easy to pick apart or roll your eyes at and there was no shortage of that here. It’s remarkably cheap looking and seemingly under rehearsed with several shots containing gaffes and strange edits. I get the feeling that the movie went through several editors and was trimmed for time…and at nearly two hours it’s still too long. Writer/director Graff has our two leads looking good but sticks them with ham-handed words of wisdom – almost as if they were walking fortune cookies. In the first 30 minutes, I’m not sure Parton or Latifah had any lines that weren’t from “S#%t Church Ladies Say”. Still, the script does provide some choice moments for both…with Parton letting loose in a restaurant and Latifah unloading a fire and brimstone sermon on the mount to her daughter.
Palmer and Jordan are our young protagonists – with great voices and charm to spare. Jordan is a Broadway star from the just closed Bonnie and Clyde and soon to open Newsies and he transitions nicely to the screen in a stock role made better by his performance. Palmer treads a fine acting line with the occasional tendency to overact. Kristofferson has a glorified cameo, appearing in two scenes looking and sounding like Rocky from Mask. Supporting characters come from the Stock Character Warehouse – all are played by interesting actors that deserved some better dialogue or moments to shine. For instance, a seemingly random love story between two choir members is funny at first…until you realize it’s only been introduced to pad the film and provide a framework for the end set-up.
A movie with a focus on Gospel music can live or die on the songs performed and here they are hit or miss. I did enjoy the group numbers (especially the very fun closer) but there are a few solo songs shoehorned in that may have you checking your watch. Like Graff’s previous effort, Camp, the film can’t decide if it’s a full on musical or a movie with music. I almost wish they had made it a musical and let go of some of the extraneous plot devices. The large musical sequences are filmed with 70% performance and 30% audience reaction shots. How many times can we see a different audience member going “WOW”? The answer? About 24.
So is this a movie to see? I’d say it depends on what you’re looking for. It’s clean entertainment with good performances but a weak script. You may find yourself sinking lower and lower in your movie seat but I’ll bet there are a few times you’ll perk up. Lower that bar and you may find some painless enjoyment here.