Sunday, January 21, 2018
Movies

Review: In 'Joyful Noise', voices carry the day

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

Joyful Noise is a good movie when it lifts up its heart and lets people sing. There are some tremendous vocal performances here, and most of them don't showcase the movie's stars, Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. But they're no slouches with a lyric, either.

An overstuffed plot about winning a national church choir competition is nothing more than Gospel Glee. Yet it allows writer-director Todd Graff to assemble gifted, mostly youthful voices singing praises to God, and not in the old, rugged cross kind of way. They turn songs by Michael Jackson, Sly Stone, Paul McCartney and Usher into jubilant expressions of faith that might make believers dance on their knees.

Latifah plays Vi Rose Hill, a devoted churchgoer deserted by her husband and strictly raising two children: passively rebellious Olivia (Keke Palmer) and Walter (Dexter Darden), whose autism keeps him musically obsessed with one-hit wonders. Parton plays G.G. Sparrow, recent widow of the choir director, who resents Vi Rose being chosen to take over.

Of course they'll make amends, then differ again on the sweet romance brewing between Olivia and G.G.'s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan). Vi Rose won't agree to adding secular music to the song list, or to take back her husband, until just the right moment. People change their minds a lot in Joyful Noise, just to keep the sentimental story churning.

Yet when the music begins, Graff channels that sentimentality into vibrant musical numbers. Some are elaborate, like a soul-shaking take on Billy Preston's That's The Way God Planned It by Our Lady of Perpetual Tears Choir, featuring a firebrand named Ivan Kelley. Palmer turns in a stirring rendition of Jackson's Man in the Mirror, and Latifah sings Fix Me, Jesus in a mesmerizing hush. Parton's showcase From Here to the Moon and Back is corny, but that's why folks love her.

Graff has proven himself an expert at teenage musical fantasy that isn't pop tart exploitation. Go back to his charming debut Camp, or the cruelly overlooked Bandslam to find young people with simple ambitions and complex motivations. The music isn't top 40 now but celebrates rhythms that aren't out of style: Broadway standards, '70s rock and now gospel. Graff is a filmmaker whom parents shouldn't be concerned about.

Joyful Noise is the latest release from Alcon Entertainment, after the family-friendly Dolphin Tale and The Blind Side, and The Book of Eli, a biblical action flick. You can see the path Alcon chooses to walk, and while Joyful Noise isn't the other films' equal, its heart is in the same, right place.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

Comments
Extraordinary heroism deserves a less ordinary movie than ‘12 Strong’

Extraordinary heroism deserves a less ordinary movie than ‘12 Strong’

After 16 years of combat and counting, the war in Afghanistan gets a happy movie ending in 12 Strong, a thick slice of patriot porn.Based on a true story, 12 Strong rightfully celebrates the first U.S. Special Forces unit battling Taliban forces shel...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ ‘12 Strong’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Call Me by Your Name,’ ‘Phantom Thread,’ ‘12 Strong’

OPENING FRIDAY:CALL ME BY YOUR NAMEAnother young man’s summer he’ll never forget is the core of Call Me By Your Name, a movie to likewise treasure. Luca Guadagnino’s coming out-of-age drama is a rare exception to familiar romantic rules.This film’s s...
Published: 01/17/18
Why ‘Phantom Thread’ is a bad fit as Daniel Day-Lewis’ final movie

Why ‘Phantom Thread’ is a bad fit as Daniel Day-Lewis’ final movie

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is passionless window-shop cinema, each static tableau lovingly arranged for display and easy dusting. Its centerpiece is a mannequin, albeit played by Daniel Day-Lewis, whose gift for keeping anything interestin...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Coming-of-age love story ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a rare treasure

Coming-of-age love story ‘Call Me By Your Name’ is a rare treasure

Another young man’s summer he’ll never forget is the core of Call Me By Your Name, a movie to likewise treasure. Luca Guadagnino’s coming out-of-age drama is a rare exception to familiar romantic rules.This film’s same-sex summer fling shared by a te...
Published: 01/16/18
Liam Neeson’s ‘The Commuter’ is terribly pedestrian action

Liam Neeson’s ‘The Commuter’ is terribly pedestrian action

Liam Neeson’s transportation troubles continue in The Commuter, ironically one of his more pedestrian action efforts.This time Neeson’s misshapen nose for danger leads him onto a train, after Non-Stop air travel, Run(ning) All Night and automobiles (...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/12/18
‘The Post’ lacks urgency in favor of saintly typecasting for Streep and Hanks

‘The Post’ lacks urgency in favor of saintly typecasting for Streep and Hanks

Steven Spielberg’s The Post is a fake news movie, a true story told phony to further an agenda. Some viewers won’t notice since Spielberg’s agenda includes defending First Amendment rights, celebrating female empowerment and sticki...
Published: 01/08/18
Here’s what Oscar voters will be looking at after the Golden Globes

Here’s what Oscar voters will be looking at after the Golden Globes

A fashion blackout and stirring calls to end sexism made afterthoughts of Sunday night’s Golden Globe winners. Just when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s choices mean more than they have in years.Timing is everything during movie awards seas...
Published: 01/08/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Commuter,’ ‘Proud Mary,’ ‘Paddington 2,’ ‘The Post’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘The Commuter,’ ‘Proud Mary,’ ‘Paddington 2,’ ‘The Post’

OPENING FRIDAY:THE COMMUTERLiam Neeson has a particular set of MTA tickets in The Commuter (PG-13), tickets he acquired over a very long career selling insurance in New York. Tickets making rush hour a nightmare for people like him. This seat is Take...
Published: 01/03/18
Updated: 01/10/18
10 new movies to look forward to in 2018

10 new movies to look forward to in 2018

OPENING FRIDAY: INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY Don’t worry, the first wide release of 2018 isn’t a sign of things to come. It’s the horror sequel Insidious: The Last Key (PG-13), Chapter 4 in the paranormal activity franchise that went d...
Updated one month ago
‘I, Tonya’ nails the landing on Tonya Harding’s rough and tumble story

‘I, Tonya’ nails the landing on Tonya Harding’s rough and tumble story

Tonya Harding was America’s sweathog in a sport preferring sweethearts, an Olympic skater always competing on thin ice.Craig Gillespie’s hysterically accurate biopic I, Tonya sets up the punchline she became. Harding’s spiteful rise and spectacular f...
Updated one month ago