Sadly, ‘Joyful Noise’ has little new to offer

Gary Clift, arts critic

By A Contributor

Can it have been eight years since Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles appeared in a movie called “The Fighting Temptations” about an outsider who comes in to a small, Southern church and helps its choir to win a big competition? The story is very much like the one for the new movie “Joyful Noise,” in which an outsider comes to a small, Southern church and helps its choir to win a big competition.

Movies with versions of the Rocky plot—where the underdog prepares for a big upset of some sort—are so common that we were going to be repeating the sports and other kinds of competitive events in which their characters are involved. Heck, Terrance Howard was in a movie a few years ago about competitive swimming. Honest.

What’s new in “Joyful Noise” is the influence of Southern independent films, and particularly those made by Tyler Perry. These are low budget, under-written films, judging by Hollywood standards. Certainly “Joyful Noise” feels inexpensively made, and outlined rather than plotted. It has, for goodness sake, big solo numbers for its aging female stars, solo numbers which could be cut from the film without in any way affecting the story.

And who are the big stars? Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. Reruns, anyone?

Latifah plays a character who is referred to over and over again as “Virus,” though I guess her name is actually “Vi Rose.” She has become conductor of the excellent choir of her little Georgia church. She was given the job when the musical group’s longtime leader, played by Kris Kristofferson, died.

His wife is G.G. (for “great-grandmother”?), played by the oft-rebuilt, likable, and talented Parton, her face now as immobile as Cher’s. Parton’s character is in the choir, and her mildly rebellious grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) comes to town, sees and hears Virus’s daughter, choir member Olivia (Keke Palmer), and decides to join himself, and to bring some additional musicians to the choir’s band.

Then there are a series of complications to the group’s run at the national competition, which is called “Joyful Noise.” G.G. and Virus are rivals. The choir loses in the semis, but gets a reprieve when the victors are disqualified. One of the choir’s male singers dies in the bed of one of the female ones. Virus doesn’t want to change what the group is doing. When everyone else does, she quits the choir for a bit. When she comes back, Randy is turned out, and all of his “new” numbers go with him. And so on.

The “new” numbers include “I Want to Take You Higher,” “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered,” and the late, great Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It.” My generation is going to have to die before any new music is allowed to become generally popular. Until I go, you all are stuck with “All Right Now” and “Satisfaction.” Live it or live with it.

“Joyful Noise” also features badly handled side-issues. Why doesn’t Virus’s husband visit the family? What’s so important about G.G. being rich? And what’s the deal with Rev. Dale’s sourness? Like the interpolated songs, the setting, and the limits on production costs, these sorts of ill-managed secondary concerns are pretty common in Tyler Perry movies and in the other indy films we’ve seen come out of the South the last few years.

Most of those movies have happy endings, too. But then, so do most Hollywood movies. “Joyful Noise” has an ending one can predict before seeing the previews, except for one detail. About a choir of kids who are their main rivals, Virus points out that they are young and will rebound from the defeat she predicts.

I wish I were young enough to rebound from seeing this same movie over and over again.

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