The inner cynic in myself wants to dismantle Joyful Noise for its sheer lack of authenticity and originality.
But there’s a heart to Todd Graff’s third directorial effort that I can’t quite shake.
Set in present day, the film follows a small-town choir group dedicated to finally (after consistently coming up short) winning the National competition.
Though, the high-pressured competition is merely a plot vehicle driven by the characters on screen.
Olivia Hill (Keke Palmer) is the elegant and soulful 16-year-old girl who doesn’t have a life outside of choir and school, due to her overbearing mother Vi Rose (Queen Latifah). The father apparently “abandoned” the family a couple years ago to head for the army, in order to “pay the bills”. And then there’s Walter, their son who has an illness that forces him to speak excessively and act primarily off uncontrollable internal impulses.
Again, the melodramatic family moments are just another distraction to segway into the films main purpose: the music.
The choir is composed of local, goody-goody folk. It’s that persona that they’ve adopted that’s ultimately been keeping them back from obtaining that championship.
Thankfully the groups lack of creativity is supplied in spades by the new kid in town: Randy Garrity (Jeremy Jordan) a wise-cracking, smart ass 20 something whose Grandmother – G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Patton making her triumphant return to film) is the founder of the Church and choir.
As with any farcical device, a romantic relationship is formed between Olivia and Randy. And of course Olivia’s controlling mother doesn’t approve and vows to keep the two separated. And of course G.G. – being the free loving woman she is – shares different beliefs with how their relationship should be overseen. And of course this dissolves into a catfight between the two older women, duking it out in a middling restaraunt, and throwing stale roles and hot spaghetti at one another.
I say of course, because, well, this by now is to be expected from a film like Joyful Noise: a chummy, slight, and crowd-pleasing affair that’s more forgettable than anything.
While the film continues the choir group rebuilds and reforms beginning to embark on a nuanced journey of gospel music. This is the year that they’re finally going to bounce back and make their mark in the winning circle.
The characters aren’t nearly as interesting as the music they’re singing. A culmination of contemporary hits and timeless classics circulate the atmosphere of Joyful Noise. Songs ranging from Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror to Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed – are sung by the ambiguous choir group. They’re destined for change. Unfortunately – their leader – Vi Rose, isn’t. She believes in staying faithful to the Lords antiqued hymns.
But le be hold, she’ll be there when the finale comes around. Which – may I add – is the revelation of the film.
In a concluding set piece that’s completed with absolute, soulful passion – Graff morphs the rhythms and beats from a Sly and the Family Stone’s jam, sex-driven rap by Usher, and Motown perfection by Stevie Wonder – into one, coherent piece of inspirational music.
Surely Joyful Noise is nowhere near the quality of its music sequences. And if I am to be candid, it’s a mediocre piece of cinema – driven merely by caricatures and an unbelievably hokey narrative.
But for those who want to feel good, the film just about does its job. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel of musicals – nor does it put a dent of shame into the already lackluster genre.
Albeit that I’ll likely forget about the film by the time this article is published, Joyful Noise – while it lasts - is pure, unadulturated fun.