In my previous post about Joyful Noise, the new music-driven comedy from writer-director Todd Graff (Camp, Bandslam) starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton which opened in North American theatres this weekend, I presumed it would be formulaic and predictable. Not surprisingly, I (along with numerous film journalists and critics across North America) was correct. But what I didn’t know at the time is that it is also deliciously over-the-top and infectious, with music (arranged and produced by Mervyn Warren) that is so catchy and soulful that I couldn’t help but tap my feet and, during at least one musical number, (perhaps somewhat embarrassingly) clap my hands.
Because it’s easy to dismiss Joyful Noise as unconvincing and lacking in subtlety, it’s possible that critics of the film, of which there are many, are missing the point. It doesn’t matter that the film doesn’t satisfactorily explain why Latifah and Parton’s characters dislike each other so much or why the audience doesn’t witness the racially integrated choir prepare for the final climactic scene or why they appear to be lip-synching their songs, the film has potential to become a cult-classic, passed along enthusiastically by anyone who appreciates musicals, camp and, as noted here by David Edelstein in New York Magazine, how much purity there can be in artifice.
True, the film would have benefited from a more frivolous or subversive script or if the director hadn’t played it so safe, but then it wouldn’t be as equally appealing to its primary audience (my mother and grandmother loved everything about it) as it was to me. Besides, the opportunity to see and hear Parton perform—and own—Chris Brown’s Forever (not to mention a beautiful new self-penned ballad entitled From Here to the Moon and Back, which feels reminiscent of Parton’s performance of I Will Always Love You in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) is worth the cost of the ticket alone…which brings me back to the film’s soundtrack: the songs performed include show-stopping, gospel-inspired versions of Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror, Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed, Usher’s Yeah and others.
If that’s not reason enough to see the film, there’s Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee), who plays Latifah’s daughter, and Broadway star Jeremy Jordan, who plays Parton’s grandson, both of whom have incredible voices, enormous screen presence and—you guessed it—an on-screen romance, as well as the funny Dexter Darden, who plays Latifah’s Asperger’s Syndrome–suffering son. And, last but not least, there’s a knock-out performance by Latifah herself, who delivers some of the best lines in the film, including one with possible gay subtext about God not making mistakes. It’s not cutting edge, but Joyful Noise is quirky and progressive for Middle America—and I enjoyed almost every joyful minute of it.
Here are links to Man In The Mirror and Maybe I’m Amazed: