'Joyful Noise' Review: When 'Glee' Met Gospel

If the Fox musical “Glee” ever found religion it would look a lot like “Joyful Noise.” That may turn some people off, but it’s what keeps the new musical rockin’ and rollin.’

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Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) has just been promoted to choral director of her small, struggling church in Pacashau, Georgia. She’s an overworked mother of two teenagers, Olivia (Keke Palmer) and Walter (Dexter Darden), who has Asperger’s Syndrome, with an estranged husband in the Army. Vi Rose keeps her kids on a tight leash with her traditional values and is a stickler for habitual Gospel music with no room for that pop stuff.

The happy-go-lucky, larger than life G.G. Sparrow (a comeback performance for Dolly Parton) butts heads with Vi Rose after Latifah’s character is chosen to lead the church choir. G.G. is suffering from the recent loss of her husband and former choral predecessor, Bernie (Kris Kristofferson), yet she still has the urge to give back and live life.

G.G.’s rebellious grandson Randy (breakout star Jeremy Jordan) comes to town from the big city and shakes things up, “Footloose” style, by encouraging pop music and fawning all over the young and talented Olivia. That doesn’t please a stickler to tradition like Vi Rose one bit.

Writer/director Todd Graff (“Camp” and “Bandslam”) certainly has a love for music and cheesy story lines. Graff puts the characters in colorful situations and develops the relationships beautifully. Despite one awkward subplot involving two members of the choir, I enjoyed watching the characters blossom over the course of two hours.

There are several strong relationships in the film, but the one that impressed me was the friendship between Randy and Walter. There is one fantastic scene where the two sing out their frustrations out in the open that ultimately helps Walter emerge from hiding. Of course, another favorite pairing is that of Vi Rose and G.G. and how their annoyance for each other eventually grows to fondness, (cliched, I know), but Latifah and Parton do an excellent job of making it fun to watch.

Every singing sequence is exciting and energetic as the choir covers pop songs like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” to Usher’s “Yeah!” The latter is turned into the Jesus-version, if you can believe the impossible. Latifah and Parton each have their own solos in the film, with Latifah singing, “Fix Me, Jesus” and Parton belting out “From Here to the Moon and Back,” which are both just lovely.

For true Gospel fans, Karen Peck appears briefly singing “Mighty High” during one of the competitions.

Jordan, who starred in the Broadway flop “Bonnie & Clyde,” would be wise pursue another singing role with his triple-threat skills and boyish good looks. While Palmer shows us she can belt, she’s also a true film actress as well, especially in one scene where she gets in a heated fight with her mother.

Where “Noise” loses volume is in its messy subplots that take the focus away from the uplifting message of the picture.

Though it may be predictable, I wish more cliched and goofy movies left you with a bounce in your step as you leave the theater. If you don’t walk in expecting an artful, Oscar-winning picture, you will leave “Joyful Noise” hopping to the beat of the film’s last, energetic number.

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