DVD Release Date: May 1, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: January 13, 2012
Rating: PG-13 (for some language including a sexual reference)
Genre: Drama, Comedy, Musical
Run Time: 117 min.
Director: Todd Graff
Actors: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Dexter Darden, Courtney B. Vance, Jesse L. Martin, Angela Grovey, Kris Kristofferson, Kirk Franklin, Francis Jue

Gospel music is about style and content. The style is uplifting. The songs can be slow or uptempo, reflective or boisterous. The lyrical content usually focuses on God, but it’s not unusual to hear “gospel-style” arrangements of songs that lack any theological substance.

Joyful Noise mixes the secular and the sacred in its portrayal of a church choir competing in a national competition, but the Gospel isn’t at the heart of this intermittently entertaining film. Instead, Joyful Noise uses church culture as a backdrop for a story of romantic relationships and professional rivalries. Themes of struggle and perseverance emerge, but the character conflicts in Joyful Noise have a disappointingly generic quality, while the film’s humorous treatment of sexual sin is downright troubling.

The story’s premise is meager: A church choir loses its longtime leader (Kris KristoffersonDolphin Tale) and suffers infighting after the church minister (Courtney B. Vance, Extraordinary Measures) appoints Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah, The Dilemma) as the new choir leader, rather than the former leader’s wife, G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton). The two women lob weakly scripted verbal shots at one another (“she looked at you like Jesus left a will putting her in charge”) while the choir prepares for an annual competition. They’re perennial losers, due, G.G. believes, to the tired arrangements of traditional numbers preferred by Vi Rose.

Vi Rose’s moody daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer, Akeelah and the Bee), has struggled to live under her mom’s rules ever since her father (Jesse L. Martin) left the family. She’s at her most confident when she sings in the church choir—especially once G.G.’s wayward grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) joins the group. Might his heavenly voice and souped up arrangements of contemporary tunes be just what the group needs to take on its showier rivals at the regional competition?

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of an uplifting story driven by upbeat, inspiring music. But for every mention in Joyful Noise of a character’s dependence on God—and to the movie’s credit, there are a few—there’s another instance or two of a character focusing on himself or herself, without any mention of divine assistance in their effort to be kinder and gentler to one another. Why, for instance, when we first meet Olivia does she lead the choir in a heartfelt rendition of Michael Jackson’s "Man in the Mirror"? That song is fine—a promise to “make a change”—but its focus is inward, where the problem (our heart attitude) resides, rather than on the One outside of ourselves. Only he can accomplish the needed change within.