There’s a “South Park” from several years ago in which the devious Eric Cartman decides to attain fame and fortune by forming a Christian rock band. “It’s the easiest thing ever!” he crows to his cronies. “All you do is take popular songs and change the word ‘baby’ to ‘Jesus’!”
This very sentiment came to mind in “Joyful Noise” when the can-do church choir from Podunk, Georgia performs a joyful rendition of “Yeah!,” the Usher hit about scamming on one’s girlfriend’s ex-friend at a club and eventually getting her pregnant. Only rewritten with lyrics about going to church.
Earlier in the movie there is a song called — literally — “I’m in Love With Jesus,” making me wonder if the film’s writers had also seen that episode of “South Park.”
Fear not: “Joyful Noise” does have a plot that involves embittered single mom Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) who is promoted to choir director, much to the chagrin of plucky rich widow G.G. (Dolly Parton). Vi Rose is determined to raise small-town spirits by taking the choir all the way to the national competition without using any of those pesky pop songs favored by her daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer). But trouble’s a-brewing: Olivia is quickly falling for G.G.’s teen dream of a grandson (Jeremy Jordan), who is labeled as “trouble” because he is from New York and wears a lot of hooded sweatshirts.
But none of this matters. No one attends a movie about a choir competition featuring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton for the character development, the Romeo and Juliet-lite love story or lame, cheap jokes at the expense of a poor woman whose paramour passes away post-coitus.
It is physically impossible to hate Queen Latifah; all she has to do is break out into a beautiful smile and lift the clunky dialogue of “Joyful Noise” to an almost believable level. And though her much-doctored face takes some getting used to when blown up to mammoth proportions onscreen, Parton still has the charisma that elevated her to superstar status decades ago. When she bursts into song, no matter how weak the lyrics, she’s so committed I found myself humming along against my will.
With a script tailor-made for TV, “Joyful Noise” isn’t worth the exorbitant movie-theater admission price. However, when it inevitably premieres on ABC Family next year on a rainy Saturday night, countless fans of sassy singing will sigh, toss aside the remote and tune in.