By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin January 13, 2012 at 1:00AM
It takes the combined personalities of Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton to wring entertainment value out of Joyful Noise, which they do to some degree, but it’s the lively choral music performances that partially salvage this kettle of corn. As longtime rivals in a small Georgia church choir, Latifah and Parton hurl insults and homilies back and forth with reckless abandon. The word “shameless” comes to mind after the fifth or sixth example sails by.
Fortunately, they are not the only characters in the film. Parton’s bad-boy grandson (Jeremy Jordan) comes to live with her, and is immediately smitten by Latifah’s daughter (Keke Palmer), who sings with the choir—and inspires him to join in. He urges the new choral director Latifah to adopt some modern ideas about her repertoire and performance style, especially since the group repeatedly comes in second in a national competition. Therein lays the crux of the plot.
Writer-director Todd Graff, whose mother (we learn in the closing credits) led a Hadassah choir for many years, has concocted a script that’s long and needlessly busy. He even incorporates a needless subplot about two choir members having sex that earns the otherwise squeaky-clean movie a PG-13 rating.
But musically, there is nothing to complain about: old-timey gospel numbers (including one composed by Parton) are contrasted with new material and compatible pop tunes like Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” All of this is under the direction of Mervyn Warren, formerly of the a cappella group Take 6. Keke Palmer, who came to my attention as the little girl in Akeelah and the Bee six years ago, is now a beautiful 18-year-old with an equally beautiful singing voice. She and Jordan harmonize well when they’re not engaged in puppy love.
The best thing I can say about Joyful Noise is that it’s a movie you can take your mother to see…although she may object to one line regarding the sexual subplot. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)