1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
At the intersection of God and Glee, you’ll find Joyful Noise.
Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton go toe to tapping toe as a pair of scrapping singers in a poor church choir in a financially depressed Georgia town, who are not above a little sinning when it comes to being prideful and talkin’ smack about each other.
Written and directed with heavy hands by Bandslam’s Todd Graff, Joyful Noise subscribes to the Tyler Perry school of filmmaking — broad laughs beget life lessons and wisdom about the power of family and the joys of doing the right thing.
In this case it’s wasp-waisted and lush-chested Parton, who appears to be one plastic surgery procedure away from Howard the Duck, spouting enough corn to fill a silo.
“Don’t you look happy as a puppy waggin’ two tails?” she drawls. She also gives advice: “When folks get wrapped up in themselves they make very small packages.” And on the subject of forbidden love: “You date that little girl and Vi Rose will just about lay square eggs.”
Parton plays gun-totin’ lil’ spitfire G.G. Sparrow, whose choir-directing hubby Bernard (Kris Kristofferson) has the good fortune to drop dead in the first five minutes and miss the rest of this aimless rambler. Kristofferson doesn’t get away completely; he returns in a creepy ghost waltz with a warbling Parton.
To G.G.’s annoyance, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) is appointed the new church choir director. Vi Rose likes the tried and true path of gospel music; G.G., perhaps inspired by her wild child — in a PG-rated sense — music-loving grandson, Randy (Broadway import Jeremy Jordan), wants some more current tunes.
To add a bit of romance to the mix, Vi Rose has a gorgeous daughter, Olivia (Akeelah and the Bee’s Keke Palmer), a frequent choir soloist with a mind of her own. Randy has his eye on Olivia, but she’s not convinced, so Randy makes his move by singing Maybe I’m Amazed. Like the other pop tunes in the soundtrack, it is converted to an ode to the Almighty with the addition of eyes lifted to heaven and index fingers pointed skyward.
Vi Rose and G.G. are out to win at a church choir rodeo known as the Joyful Noise, hoping it will help the town’s sagging fortunes.
But that means taking on the pint-sized powerhouses in the Our Lady of Perpetual Tears church choir.
The soundtrack is entertaining in a Bible Belt way, including Grammy-nominated gospel singer Karen Peck awkwardly belting out a white bread version of Mighty High.
Joyful Noise marks Parton’s first trip to the big screen in 20 years (aside from a voice bit in the animated Gnomeo & Juliet), since playing a radio advice show host in the underwhelming Straight Talk.
A talented songwriter and performer, Parton has never been a great actress so it’s easy to see why she was drawn to this role, chewing up the scenery in a diner fight scene with Vi Rose — “Ow, you’re breakin’ mah hair!” she hollers — and gleefully accepting slags about her looks and fondness for the surgeon’s knife.
“God didn’t make plastic surgeons so they would starve!” She says. But she gets her own claws in too, telling Vi Rose: “My doctor does good liposuction too!”
Latifah is more puzzling. Is this the former rapper who was nominated for an Oscar for Chicago doing all this eye-rolling, rigidly awkward business?
The faithful in this choir, who require no preaching to, will adore Joyful Noise, but it will stir painful memories of 1970s made-for-TV movies in the rest of us.
There’s no sin in making a movie with an inspirational message, but there must be a way to do it that doesn’t leave you feeling like you are covered in a sticky film as the credits roll.
Let the congregation say Amen.
Linda Barnard is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.