Joyful Noise, a squeaky-clean pop-gospel fairy tale featuring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in canned catfights, reflects the inspiration of Glee and God, in that order. The Glee side, at least in my book, doesn’t exactly amount to a recommendation, but it does mean that the movie’s musical numbers are catchy and rollicking and, in their bright sunshiny way, rather soulful. In the small town of Pacashau, Ga., times are hard — every other storefront is empty — but the Divinity Church choir has lifted local spirits by rising to become a semifinalist in the National Joyful Noise Competition. Can these spunky vocalists go the distance?
Not until they learn to work together in harmony. Which means that Vi Rose Hill (Latifah), the choir’s new director, has to stop feuding with G.G. Sparrow (Parton), widow of the former choir leader, over the direction of the group’s music. Vi Rose, feisty and smart-mouthed, favors tradition, while G.G., whose grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) is the new songbird on the block, is out to shake things up. Parton now looks like a Spitting Image puppet (the film makes plastic-surgery jokes about her so that we don’t have to), but she still has a way with lines like ”I’d call you stubborn, but that’d be an insult to mules!”
Joyful Noise also finds room for a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome (Dexter Darden) who loves one-hit-wonder songs (but can he learn to love himself?), as well as a romance between Randy and Vi Rose’s daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer). These two are pretty — and as bland as balsa wood. But each time the innocuousness starts to get to you, you’re woken up by Randy and Olivia’s swooning ”Maybe I’m Amazed” duet, or a kid-choir rendition of Billy Preston’s ”That’s the Way God Planned It,” or the final ”I Want to Take You Higher” blowout. These numbers create a deep river of feeling, even when stuck in the shallow banks of a movie like this one. B-