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Thank you for the music

29 June 2012

Stephen Brown sees two strong women and a gospel choir


Never mind the sub-plots: Dolly Parton (left) stars as G. G. Sparrow, and Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill, in Alcon Entertainment's Joyful Noise, a Warner Bros. Pictures release, in UK cinemas from today

Never mind the sub-plots: Dolly Parton (left) stars as G. G. Sparrow, and Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill, in Alcon Entertainment's Joyful Noise, a Wa...

EVEN if St Augustine of Hippo never really said that those who sing pray twice, it feels as if he should have done. It is certainly the main premise of Joyful Noise (Cert. PG) despite a bewildering array of sub-plots - the recession, Asperger's, choristers' multi­farious problems, etc. Most of these we could have done without. People will go to the film for its music.

Given that the story concerns a gospel choir, the range is quite catholic: country and western; rhythm and blues; Broadway musicals; pop-music videos, etc. That's where the plot comes in, because the pastor (Courtney B. Vance) of the Pacashau Divinity Church Choir, Georgia, has ap­pointed staid, humourless Vi (Queen Latifah) as new choir leader. This comes as a shock to her arch-rival, G. G. (Dolly Parton), whose husband (Kris Kristofferson) had led the choir to regional level victory in a singing competition before dying.

For the rest of the film, it is hand­bags at dawn as Parton and Latifah (mainly the latter) strut their stuff. Subversion takes the form of Jeremy Jordan, who plays G. G's grandson, Randy. Not only does he introduce secular popular music to the choir behind Vi's back, but he dares to fall in love with her daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer).

Times must have changed, because little seems to be made in con­temporary Georgia of this love match's interracial nature. Instead, Olivia and Randy just make beautiful music together. It is reminiscent of the ever-popular Sister Act, in that secular lyrics are given a spiritual twist. Vi, when she finds out what the choir has been doing, tells her daughter: "I want to hear God through you," not just songs about me and you. She has a point. Thus Palmer's rendition of "Man in the Mirror" becomes a plea for repen­tance. Jordan rather clumsily turns the singer-composer Usher's 2004 hit "Yeah" into a paean to Jesus.

Much dramatic capital could have been made out of the familiar ten­sions between music-makers and clergy. This is under-explored, and the pastor is reduced to dealing with G. G.'s hurt pride, and predictably upholding conservative musical choices. In a move that may say more about American religion than ours, Randy manages to become ordained by means of a website. But who cares? "You can't stop the music, nobody can stop the music."

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