Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Joyful Noise

Directed by Todd Graff.
2012. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Queen Latifah
Dolly Parton
Keke Palmer
Jeremy Jordan
Dexter Darden
Courtney B. Vance
Jesse L. Martin
Angela Grovey
Dequina Moore
Kris Kristofferson
Kirk Franklin

When Bernie (Kristofferson) passes away Pastor Dale (Vance) decides Vi Rose (Latifah) will take his place as choir director, much to the chagrin of Bernie’s widow G. G. (Parton), who wants the position for herself. The two already have issues with one another so this just makes things worse. Vi Rose is also trying to raise two teenagers by herself since her husband is away in the service. Her daughter Olivia (Palmer) is a member of the choir and a fairly typical 16 year old. Walter (Darden) is a little younger and has a form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. We’re told he can’t pick up on things like humor and sarcasm, doesn’t like to be touched and is totally fixated on one-hit wonders. Then there’s Randy (Jordan). He’s a trouble-maker who’s been kicked out of his parent’s house. He’s also in love with Olivia. Melodrama, puppy love and singing ensues. Lots of singing.

As in her best work, Queen Latifah is a force of nature as Vi Rose. Her presence is undeniable. She has a way of dominating a scene whether she’s the focus, or not. This pays the most dividends when she argues with or consoles other characters. She overwhelms them with an unstoppable wave of passion we can’t help but be glued to. Fortunately, we’re given several of these scenes throughout the movie.

The rest of the acting is spotty and seems to break down along gender lines. Most of the ladies are very good. Most of the guys, not so much. Jeremy Jordan as Randy is the biggest offender. He’s just not at all believable as a bad boy and seems to be channeling Zac Effron during the High School Musical days whenever he bursts into song. He’s a cute kid, hardly a menace to society. As far as the other guys go, it’s largely due to the script giving them nothing to do until they have to suddenly drop some supposedly heartfelt pearl of wisdom. This particular strategy fails to aid their performances. Some get nothing to do at all. The usually excellent Kris Kristofferson dies within two minutes of the start, only getting a superfluous flashback scene later in which he only gets to dance cute with Dolly. The talented Courtney B. Vance is on the screen often, but relegated to bump on a log status.

Speaking of the script, it tries to do too much and winds up doing nothing whatsoever. At least, it doesn’t do anything unique. It’s mildly amusing, on occasion, and the various plotlines play out pretty much as expected. One of those is a sob story about how hard the town they live in has been hit by the recession. There is no doubt lots to be explored down that avenue, but none of it is. It just feels tacked on and even more manipulative than the other already gushy storylines.

The same goes for race. Joyful Noise goes out of its way to show us interracial relationships. The choir is more diverse than any I’ve ever seen in real life. I’ve no problem with either other than it feels as if some grand point will be made, but we never get around to it. Then again, maybe that is the point.

What we end up with is a movie that barrels towards a plethora of happy endings and fails to make any decipherable commentary on the topics it seems to want to: the economy and race. On the other hand, it springs to life whenever leading lady Latifah is called upon to give us a show-stopping moment or when the music gets going and we’re treated to another lively tune. The question for you is: do you want a cute, light-hearted and homey musical with a religious slant?

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