I have a four year old son, and really, honestly, truly, he is one of the most adorable kids you’ll ever meet. He’s like a little Lipnicki: Cute, sweet, and more than a little precocious. When he grows up, he wants to be a lawyer like his mother, and a movie reviewer like his Dad, but mostly, he wants to be a programmer. I’m not sure when it became a thing for four year olds to want to grow up to be programmers, but his reasoning is sound: He wants to reprogram Angry Birds because he doesn’t think it’s fair that the pigs can neither defend themselves nor fight back. That thought never occurred to me, but there you go: That’s what goes on in a four year old’s head.
But for all of his amazing qualities, my son is a shitty colorerer. He can write his name, spell a few words, and even sound out his way through certain books — an impressive feat for most preschoolers — but the kid cannot color. I see other kids his age killing those Bert and Ernie coloring books, but my kid is all Jackson Pollock on the page. It’s just a loose mass of scribbles with absolutely no regard for the lines on the page. But I’m a Dad, I love my son, and he’s so good at so many other things, I’m not about to tell him that he sucks with the Crayola.
That’s how I feel about Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in Joyful Noise: They are such amazing women and such powerful singers and I have such an affection for them that I don’t have the heart to say that their movie is a poorly drawn coloring book and they’re scribbling all over the goddamn page. It is a terrible movie, to the point of real embarrassment. Yet, when they’re singing rousing gospel numbers, you forget all about it and give yourself up to the music.
Unfortunately, in between the musical numbers, it’s a difficult movie to endure. it’s about a talented gospel choir in a tiny, struggling town in Georgia trying to work their way to a national championship in Los Angeles. Queen Latifah plays Vi Rose Hill, the director of the choir. She’s also a nurse struggling to raise two children on her own, one of whom has Aspergers. Her daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer) — who can sing the hell out of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” — is smitten with Randy (Jeremy Jordan), a the grandson of G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), who is not only in the choir, but the church’s biggest financial contributor. Vi Rose and G.G. have a strained relationship, which becomes even more strained when Randy tries to re-arrange and modernize the gospel numbers and bang Vi Rose’s daughter.
If you’ve ever seen a made-for-TV movie, you know exactly where Joyful Noise is headed. It’s predictable, but so incompetently made that writer/director Todd Graff can’t even stay within the lines of a decades’ old formula. The acting is atrocious — I suspect everyone in the film was chosen for their voices and not their acting talent — and the writing makes Tyler Perry seem like Billy Wilder by comparison. Hell, Joyful Noise is so corny you’ll be shitting kernels for months, and despite an overly-long two-hour movie, Graff never finds time to work in scene transitions or develop characters. The movie itself is an epic disaster, like a Disney version of low-budget Christian film littered with cringe-inducing, country-fried platitudes and nuggets of wisdom pulled straight out of fortune cookies.
But you don’t kick a puppy because it shits on the floor. You clean up its mess and scratch its neck because it’s fucking adorable. And for all the shit on the floor of Joyful Noise, I can’t hate on it because Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton are so adorable and so goddamn likable that you can’t help but love them a little. It doesn’t hurt that they can sing the roof off a skyscraper. Yes, Parton — who is 65 — looks like a bee-stung funhouse mirror, but no amount of plastic surgery can obscure her twangy charisma and those pipes. Latifah, meanwhile, is Latifah: A plus-sized beauty with charm and sass to spare, and when she turns on the Stevie Wonder in the finale, you’ll quickly forget how much suffering you had to endure to get there.
Joyful Noise is not a movie made for critics, cynics, regular readers of this site, or discerning moviegoers of any type. It is unquestionably an awful film. But it doesn’t matter. The people for whom the movie is targeted — earnest church groups, old folks, and their adoring grandchildren — will walk out grinning ear to ear, feeling lifted by the rousing gospel numbers, and bewitched the magnetism of Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah. It doesn’t have to be a good movie to be exactly what its audience wants.