queen_latifa_web.jpgIn Joyful Noise, Vi Rose Hill (played by Queen Latifah), the new choir director of Pacashau Sacred Divinity Church, has to lead her choir in the Regional Joyful Noise Competition. Along the journey to the gospel challenge she and her singers face challenges of their own.


Vi Rose’s teenage daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer), and Randy (Jeremy Jordan), are in love, but being kept apart by Vi. Olivia’s brother Walter (Dexter Darden) is struggling with Asperger syndrome. Vi’s husband Marcus (Jesse L. Martin) has left his wife for the military. Earla (Angela Grovey) is grappling with the repercussions of sleeping with a fellow choir member. Vi’s tight rein on Olivia is straining their relationship. And the recession has caused most of the businesses in Pacashau, Ga. to close down.


TOO PREDICTABLE
In the script by Todd Graff, who also serves as the film’s director, we have six plot points in search of a good story. They’re also in search of a better writer. Graff is the brain behind such films as

Bandslam, Camp, The Beautician and the Beast and Angie. I haven’t seen nor heard anything about them, which says volumes.

Some problems with Graff’s script are the weak plot points that never get resolved, the one-note characters, and said characters’ speaking only in ready quotes (read: “When foxes pack the jury box, the chicken’s always guilty.”).

These problems are exacerbated by Graff’s direction. His story is supposed to be inspirational, but Joyful is the evil stepsister of Sister Act 2. There’s a choir singing competition. There are wayward teens. There is a strict matriarch who keeps everyone from having fun. And there’s a loudmouth who’s always willing to bend or break the rules.


MISCASTS CHRISTIANS
The worse offense is that Joyful sends the wrong messages about the Christian community. I don’t think Graff even knows what his message should be. On the screen we see people cursing, teenagers almost engaging in raunchy sex, choir members hooking up and lots of emphasis placed on cleavage — as in G.G. Sparrow, played by Dolly Parton, in her choir robe that fits too snugly around her ample chest.


FAILURE TO UPLIFT
Joyful Noise makes the awesome mistake of being too much forced and not enough funny. It’s too many actors with their own special subplots but not enough plot to create a cohesive story. There are too many main characters to follow and not enough substance to make them whole.

Most importantly, there’s not enough tying of loose ends to achieve closure. It’s a shame that a film that’s supposed to be uplifting ends up a mishmash of little stories haphazardly strung together. 


BUT THE MUSIC SINGS

The choir’s renditions of popular songs is the saving grace as Joyful Noise shines in arranger Mervyn Warren’s musical numbers. Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror gets inspired treatment. Vi Rose sings a version of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre’s Fix Me, Jesus that’s as moving as performed during the New York company’s Revelations.

The best performance of Joyful belongs to its Regional Joyful Noise Competition, during which the choir comes together and brings their natural talents to a dizzying fruition.


MIXED MESSAGES
Like most gospel films — and dance films for that matter — Joyful Noise is blessed with awesome singers and beautiful musical numbers, while being cursed with a weak storyline, half-baked characters, mixed messages and a corny ending.

Fans of films like The Gospel and Preacher’s Kid will love this film. Others will be much more entertained by Joyful’s soundtrack.

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Photo: COURTESY OF Van Redin

Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill in 'Joyful Noise.'