An exhilarating musical with rousing gospel numbers, “Joyful Noise” is a likable drama with a touch of humor that’s fairly engaging even when no one is singing. The story circles around two strong-minded women played by actress/rapper Dana Owens (aka Queen Latifah) and singer/actress Dolly Parton, who are forced to cooperate when a budget cut threatens to shut down their small-town choir. Despite being at odds, both Vi Rose (Latifah) and G.G. (Parton) have one thing in common: they love the choir. If only they can put their bickering aside, they just might be able to make their way to Los Angeles to take a shot at the Joyful Noise National Choir Competition. An Annual Gospel competition the choir has consistently failed to win.
(Front L-R) Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah Photo by Van Redin
“It’s obvious from the beginning of the film that G.G. and Vi Rose have a long history that has resulted in a lot of baggage, which keeps the friction going.” Parton elaborates “They are always at odds and just automatically rub each other the wrong way. So Dana and I purposely didn’t hang out together. We’d make snide remarks, saying these awful things to each other around the set, just like Vi and G.G. would. But it was all in fun.”
(L-R) Parton and Latifah’s character clash in Joyful Noise Photo by Van Redin
Shaking things up even more is the arrival of G.G.’s rebellious grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan) who has a crush on Vi Rose’s teenage daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), but as the sparks fly between the young adults, the friction increases between their parents. “Dolly and I had a lot of conversations before the film started,” says Latifah. “We felt that on top of making a good movie, and some good songs, we could actually uplift folks. The movie is about people making it through challenges, pulling together to accomplish a goal and reclaim their spirits along the way. That’s what a lot of people need today, hope.” The characters at the center of the story have to persevere, with faith in their community and in their church, all expressed through music and a little laughter.
(L-R) Jeremy Jordan and Keke Palmer Photo by Van Redin
Directed by Todd Graff (“Camp,” “Bandslam”), it’s a sweet, well-intentioned flick with an endearing cast. Nothing in the movie is surprising, but it’s all pleasantly undemanding, like watching a rerun of a familiar show. “Music has always been a common language, and gospel music is no exception. Gospel has evolved from the traditional spirituals to rock, hip-hop and R & B, and that’s reflected in the movie,’” says Graff who also wrote the script. “I grew up surrounded by music, including a houseful of ladies coming over every Tuesday and Thursday night to sing while my mom conducted. It made an enormous impression on me. Money can be scarce, life can be scary, and bad things happen to people you love, but there’s art and music and faith and family to make us happy in the world—and to try and overcome is always worth the effort.”
Kirk Franklin as Baylor Sykes in Joyful Noise Photo by Van Redin
The movie opens on a musical note, as the Pacashau Sacred Divinity Choir delivers their anthem, “Not Enough,” in the local Joyful Noise gospel competition. Preparing for the film, Graff took his research seriously attending real gospel competitions. “They have become enormous over the past decade or so. I went to one in Newark, New Jersey that was sold out—18,000 seats. They sell out the Staples Center. Choirs perform from all over the country—big choirs, small choirs, praise dancers. These things are a huge deal.”
(L-R) Dolly Parton, Director Todd Graff and Queen Latifah Photo by Van Redin
With lots of foot-tapping sounds, composer and Music Producer Mervyn Warren arranged a new version of the classic spiritual “Fix Me Jesus,” performed as a stirring solo by Queen Latifah and Gospel great Kirk Franklin wrote “In Love” for the film which he performs with Detroit’s Holy Vision Church choir — Pacashau’s arch-rival.
“It was important to Todd that every song be woven into the story and have its proper place in the film. The choir’s arc—where they start, where they end up, what happens in between—is compelling. Todd wanted energy, power and pathos. And that’s what we put into every song,” adds Warren. Also starring Jesse L. Martin, Dexter Darden and Courtney B. Vance as the dour preacher, ”Joyful Noise” is a full-throated, good-hearted musically driven story, which pulls from a variety of music genres. With a title inspired by a national choir competition, it’s a movie that will soften even the most cynical moviegoer.
“Joyful Noise” releases in the US January 13, 2012
Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.