download Joyful Noise movieA country singer and a hip-hop diva walk into a church. No, this isn't the setup for a joke, it's Joyful Noise, the feel-good movie starring Dolly Parton (in her first major film role in 20 years) and Queen Latifah.
download Joyful Noise movie
download Joyful Noise movie
They play G.G. and Vi Rose, respectively, a couple of hallelujah chorus girls in small-town Georgia who are at odds over their church choir's songbook.
It's not exactly a liturgical controversy along the lines of Vatican II; Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" is already part of the choir's repertoire, sung early on by Keke Palmer, who plays Vi Rose's peevish 16-year-old daughter, Olivia. It's not David vs. Goliath, it's righteous vs. sassy and in a reversal you might not expect, it's Latifah who plays the traditionalist here. G.G.'s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan), the requisite sensitive hunk who can also sing, arrives and promptly romances Olivia.
G.G. is the rich lady in town -- a heavily altered woman of a certain age whose choir robe is provocatively tailored within an inch of her hourglass life. Just like Parton herself, G.G. has had extensive cosmetic work done, which is played for laughs in a scene where the two divas face off. "Who cares if I've had a few little nips and tucks? God didn't make plastic surgeons so they could starve!" G.G. tells Vi Rose. Instead of thinking what would Jesus do, G.G. and Vi Rose squabble, but their occasional adherence to Psalm 100 is what gives the movie its title.
The chosen song interludes are the definite highlight of an otherwise disjointed movie, or at least the crowd-pleasing parts. There is more originality of choice, re-interpretation and arrangements than Glee has demonstrated of late.
During awards shows, choir ensembles are usually my cue to head to the bathroom; all that standing around swaying in choir vestments and not much showmanship. Joyful Noise has a similar problem (at least on Glee, there's some stage business and jazz hands). The lack of choreography may be a blessing in disguise, however, since Parton throwing herself into hip-hopping show choir moves is a sight to behold: all heavenward air pumps and shuffle-mincing in towering platform heels.
Overall it's wholesome, peppered with a few cusses and a lot of country wisdom, if not exactly wit: "God gives you girls so your mama can say 'I told you so,'" and, "You're so country, you've been married three times and still have the same in-laws."
Joyful Noise limps along with all the emotional ups and downs of a Lifetime movie, mixing easy-listening radio classics with some God talk and moments of sincerity.
In a moment of crisis, Vi Rose tinkles at the grand piano at the church and delivers a beautiful version of the traditional spiritual "Fix Me, Jesus." Parton's G.G. has her own piano at home and uses it to channel her grief into a bittersweet fantasy duet with Kris Kristofferson (in a cameo role as her late husband). The song, "From Here to the Moon and Back," is one of two new original Parton songs on the soundtrack. The moment itself is hokey but effective, in large part due to Parton's honeyed soprano.
All this builds to the national church choir competition against a wunderkind choir from Florida that moves like the Jackson Five, with a medley of Sly and the Family Stone and other soulful hits. Win or lose, everyone is eventually forgiven and redeemed -- even Chris Brown, whose song "Forever" is a key moment of the rousing competition medley (and sung by Parton). At best, it's the worst episode of Glee; at worst, it's the best episode of 7th Heaven.