Movie Review - Joyful Noise
Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee and Madea's Family Reunion) who plays Olivia proves that she is a damn good singer. Writer-director Todd Graf (Camp and Bandslam) also pulls together a few fresh faces who also prove they can sing. The hormone-fueled youngster put center stage is Jeremy Jordan who plays Randy, Olivia's love interest. Not only can Jordan sing but he's pretty handy with a piano and a guitar. He's not as good as Paul Woolfolk who plays Manny, another of Olivia's potential suitors.
This movie is essentially a musical, so what I would have appreciated is Randy and Manny competing for Olivia's affections using their musical abilities. Instead, Graf devolves into the two of them swinging their fists in a ridiculous fight scene. They shouldn't have battled each other with punches. They should have battled with rhythm and beats or guitar riffs. Yet, it doesn't matter because Graf doesn't really bother to develop these characters anyway.
One unforgivable crime that this film makes is that it contains Kris Kristofferson and Jesse L. Martin but doensn't allow either to sing. Kristofferson, aside from acting, is also a recording artist who has released several albums. He has a clear opportunity to sing, but he's kept relatively quiet. Martin has sung beautifully and wonderfully on Broadway, but is there any evidence of that here? No! So, my question is why is he even here at all. It's not that Martin doesn't have any other skills beyond singing. It's that he's not given much to do either way.
Yes, it bothered me, but there were so many other really good musical performances that I looked past it. Olivia is one of the lead singers at a church where her mom, Vi Rose Hill, played by Oscar-nominee Queen Latifah (Chicago and Hairspray), is the choir director. Vi Rose was promoted to choir director over G.G. Sparrow, played by Oscar-nominee Dolly Parton (Nine to Five and Transamerica). This creates a bit of animosity between Vi Rose and G.G., which erupts in a hilarious food fight. The animosity grows even stronger when G.G.'s wayward grandson, Randy, shows up in her house and develops a crush on Olivia.
The church choir is trying to advance in the National Joyful Noise Competition, a rivalry between church choirs all over the country to see who can put on the best song performance. Any plot leading up to the final show-off is incidental. What we sacrifice in story, we get in gospel songs that are modernized or performed with a contemporary approach or we get pop, rock, R&B and country songs remade incorporating the words Jesus or Lord.
Those songs are all performed very well, which is why this movie is enjoyable mostly. What I didn't think was enjoyable was the potrayal of Vi Rose's son, Walter, played by Dexter Darden. Walter suffers from Asperger's Syndrome but the way it's handled here makes no sense and seems like it only gives Asperger's lip service and not an authentic depiction. What also wasn't enjoyable was the clunky way this movie dealt with the issue of the bad economy.
Of the song renditions I liked, there were Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed." Queen Latifah sings the traditional "Fix Me Jesus." Kirk Franklin makes a cameo to do his own "In Love." Dolly Parton also does her own "From Here to the Moon and Back." There is a mashup of Motown records that's meant to be the show stopper, but you'll be blown away more with Ivan Kelley Jr who is the soloist for Our Lady of the Perpetual Tears' incredible performance of "That's the Way God Planned It."
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some language including a sexual reference.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.