There are equal parts faith and heart in this enjoyable comedic drama co-starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as rivals in a church choir, but it's the music that makes Joyful Noise truly sing. The plot, about a Pacashau, Ga. gospel group trying to win a national competition, is just an excuse to hang songs on, but oh, what heavenly music.
Writer/director Todd Graff (Camp, Bandslam) judiciously incorporates catchy pop tunes by artists like Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney to make everyone — the characters and the audience — want to get up and shout. The songs are infectious, but the much-hyped star power is off-kilter. Parton, who's all down-home grit and charm, is underused, save for a lovely duet. Joyful Noise is Queen Latifah's show all the way. Her poignant ballad, “Fix Me Jesus,” testifies to her character’s troubles, and her speeches — tender for her Asperger's-afflicted son Walter (South Jersey's Dexter Darden) and tough-loving for her teenage daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) — are showstoppers. However, there is too much time spent on the romantic trials between Olivia and Parton's lustful grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan), and Graff never resists an obvious joke. At least the messages about finding one's strength and pride aren't too preachy. Joyful Noise isn’t great cinema, but it's going to make one helluva Broadway musical.