When choir director Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) passes away unexpectedly, Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. Should he promote the dearly departed deacon’s deserving assistant, Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah), or award the position to his grieving widow, G.G. (Dolly Parton)?
After agonizing over the decision, the good reverend settles on the former, potentially risking the survival of Sacred Divinity, since the well-to-do Sparrow family is the cash-strapped Church’s major benefactor. By comparison, life’s a struggle for Vi Rose and most of the other citizens of Pacashau, Georgia.
The economic recession has turned the once-thriving town into a decaying metropolis marked by foreclosure signs, a soup kitchen packed with the homeless, and a business district dotted with vacant storefronts.
G.G.’s grudgingly ratifying the appointment of Vi Rose is the answer to the prayers of Pastor Dale who is desperate to avoid creating a rift in his tight-knit congregation. He hopes that the choir might restore a measure of pride to the beleaguered Pacashau community by prevailing at the upcoming National Gospel Competition.
That unlikely feat is the raison d’etre of Joyful Noise, a faith-based mix of modern morality play and musical numbers. The soulful singing performances are the film’s forte, from Dolly Parton and Kris Kristofferson’s heartfelt duet on “From Here to the Moon and Back” to Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan’s equally-evocative interpretation of “Maybe I’m Amazed” to Ivan Kelley, Jr.’s spirited rendition of “That’s the Way God Planned It.”
As for the pat plotline, the point of departure finds Vi Rose with her hands full and dividing her time from trying to raise two teenagers alone because her husband (Jesse L. Martin) abandoned the family for the military on account of the lack of local jobs. Their son, Walter (Dexter Darden), is in need of help handling his Asperger’s Syndrome while boy-crazy daughter, Olivia (Palmer), sure could use a more appropriate suitor than the thug (Paul Woolfolk) who’s been courting her lately.
Everything changes the day G.G.’s prodigal grandson Randy (Jordan) rolls back into town from New York City unexpectedly. Although a little rough around the edges, the misunderstood young man is just the answer for everybody’s malady.
First, he falls in love with Olivia at first sight. Then he serves as a surrogate big brother to Walter. And when he joins the choir, it’s only a matter of time before he mends the fences between Vi Rose and his granny on the road to the finals at the Joyful Noise contest in Los Angeles.
A modern parable that’s fun for the whole family with an uplifting message about the power of cooperation. Can I get an Amen?
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and a sexual reference.
Running time: 117 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers