Blame it on the Fox Television series “Glee”! With the resounding success of the lives-of-the-members-of-the choir theme, intercut with catchy songs, there were bound to be imitators like this. So instead of progressive, “Glee”-type social/cultural issues, there’s a small town in Georgia church choir trying to get to a national singing competition in Los Angeles.
After their beloved choirmaster, Bernard Sparrow (a cameo by Kris Kristofferson), suffers a fatal heart attack during the annual Joyful Noise showcase, members of the Pacashau Sacred Divinity Choir are stunned when Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) appoints Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) to succeed Bernie. Particularly upset is his wealthy widow, G.G. Sprrow (Dolly Parton), who expected to inherit her late husband’s position.
Strong-willed, spiritual Vi Rose Hill is a stubborn gospel traditionalist, espousing conservative Christian values and snapping “Don’t you bring all that Mariah/Christmas mess in here!” when her 16 year-old daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer) riffs during rehearsal. In contrast, spunky G.G. wants to shake things up by injecting more contemporary pop culture into the choral music. Meanwhile, G.G.’s rambunctious, rebellious grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) has a hankering for songbird Olivia and volunteers to give piano lessons to Vi’s self-absorbed, Asperger’s-afflicted, teenage son, Walter (Dexter Darden).
Since he made his directorial debut with “Camp” (2003) about a performing arts summer camp, followed by “Bandslam” (2009), 52 year-old actor-turned-writer/director Todd Graff is treading familiar turf. And his campy dialogue can be barbed, like Dolly’s quip, “God didn’t make plastic surgeons so they would starve…”(and a jab at Queen Latifah) “My doctor does good liposuction too!”
On the plus side, there’s lots of exuberant singing, including hits by Paul McCartney (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), Michael Jackson (“Man in the Mirror”), Chris Brown (“Forever”), Sly and the Family Stone (“I Want to Take You Higher”), Usher (“Yeah”) and Stevie Wonder (“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”), among others.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Joyful Noise” is an obviously flimsy 5, consisting of familiar hallelujah gospels glued together by caricaturist Southernfried performances and an overwrought, formulaic story.