Deadly Doll's Choice: Joyful Noise (2012) Dolly, the Queen, and Me
When I agreed that I should go to see Joyful Noise as part of the ongoing swap series I have with Emily of the Deadly Doll's House of Horror Nonsense, I might have been drinking. Okay, I was definitely drinking. When else would seeing a movie starring a Country singer, a Rapper turned actress, and a plot grounded in gospel music sound like a good idea? From my hazy recollection, the answer to that is about 5 or 6 beers in. At any rate, while my decision was clouded by alcohol, my viewing experience was done in an unmercifully sober state. Heading out on January 19th, Dolly Parton's 65th birthday, I made my way across town to the slowest theater, pitched up in the back row directly under the projector, and experienced the film called Joyful Noise. Well, first off, they didn't call it Astounding Vision for a reason. It's not the kind of film I would pick out to see on a big screen, but, while I didn't become moved by the spirit, I might have just enjoyed myself a bit more than I expected.
When Gospel Choir leader Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) suddenly dies, the congregation of a small Georgia church find themselves without the guidance that's lead them to 2nd place in the national "Joyful Noise" gospel performance contest. Bernard's widow, G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), might think she's the natural successor, but the church board decides to give the Choir Leader position to her rival, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifa). The two women vie for control over the choir's artistic direction while G.G's grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan) vies for the affection of Vi Rose's daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer). The choir wins a chance to go to L.A. to perform in the Nationals again, but they must find a way to come together if they hope to overcome the rather stiff (and adorable) competitors that stand in their way.
So it's a good old fashioned religious based film grounded on that most Christian of principals, winning. to give the film some credit, it primarily sticks to the infighting, backbiting, and general struggles of the choir members rather than place it's focus on the competition a la Bring It On. The 'A' plot revolves around Dolly and the Queen, and the 'B' plot wedges in a teen romance. However, once you get down to the 'D' level sub-plot involving a lady who gets a reputation for killing off lovers via heart attack after a tryst with a fellow choir member goes awry, complete with the dialog "hit it and die" worked in, then one has to wonder who this film was intended for. It seemed like a poor attempt at replicating the Tyler Perry magic, but with a white Country star and a teen sub-plot to reel in a wider audience. On some levels, it succeeds, and with a number of secular songs peppering the film (though a few get gospeliized versions including Sly Stone's "Gonna Take U Higher" dedicated to a higher power and Usher's "Yeah" appropriated as "Pray"), at times it didn't occu to me that the film's focus was religious.
As far as the performances go.... well, Dolly Parton was just about as you'd expect her to be, outlandish, dripping with a syrupy sweetness, and ready with a handy country aphorism if the chance arises. It's been a long time since 9 to 5 and the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Dolly, while continuing to record albums and build a theme park empire, clearly did not take time out to work on her acting. Queen Latifah began her transition from musician to actress in 1991 with her role in Jungle Fever. Since then, she has certainly been Queen Latifah acting in things. That's really the best way to sum up the two female leads. Think about what you know about them in films, and then put them in one together. Presto. You've seen Joyful Noise without all that pesky having to see Joyful Noise, As far as the teenage actors go, they provided the most grounded part of the story, but hours after, I don't think I could have picked either out of a lineup. Kristofferson, who only appears briefly twice in the film, was a real surprise to me as I missed the first couple minutes of the film. and hence his first appearance. When he appeared to spectrally duet with Dolly, it was the film's only surprise. So my advice, always skip the first five minutes.
In my inebriated state in which the Deadly Doll suggested this "In Theaters Now" themed swap (for my part I sent her to see the female driven action flick Haywire), it sounded like such a good idea to see Joyful Noise. The spirit of Spirits made me oblivious to how tough a slog it might be, and topping out at 2 hours, the film is no brief interlude. However, there was something to it. Between the CW grade romance, the awkward sub-plots (including one about Queen's autistic son who loves "Don't Walk Away Renee"), and religious themes, I actually enjoyed watching Dolly "Coat of Many Colors" Parton and Queen "U.N.I.T.Y." Latifah snipe at each other for a while. Certainly it would have been more entertaining if somehow the film had managed to devolve into fisticuffs, but you can't have everything. Actually, the real surprise was that I had anything at all. In the sober light of day, I never expected to garner any entertainment out of Joyful Noise, but after leaving the theater, the tune I was humming wasn't exactly Joyful but there's no doubt it was Noise.