'Sister Act' for the 'Glee' generation. That pretty much sums up 'Joyful Noise.' Wait, strike that, it's more like 'Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit' for the 'Glee' generation. Though that comparison might seem rather snide, it isn't necessarily meant in a negative way. You see, I actually have a strange fondness for Sister Mary Clarence and her band of singing nuns, and while I'm not a regular viewer, I have seen and enjoyed episodes of 'Glee.' Now, 'Joyful Noise' isn't as successful as those two influences that it strives to emulate, but the movie's sweet fusion of pop and gospel presents a harmless, mostly light foray into family entertainment. Despite being predictable, by-the-numbers, and more than a little derivative, the film does have a certain likeable charm. It's not enough to elevate it beyond pure mediocrity, mind you, but it's a mildly amusing effort all the same.
The story follows a small town church choir as they practice for an upcoming competition. The choir's director, Vie Rose (Queen Latifah), wishes to continue taking the group in a traditional, gospel oriented style, but conflict arises when the boisterous G.G. (Dolly Parton) recommends a more modern, pop influenced approach. At the same time, a young romance develops between G.G.'s grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), and Vie's daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), further complicating matters. With the national competition fast approaching and the very fate of the choir at stake, the two women will have to compromise or accept the group's dissolution.
Joining the likes of such historic on screen unions as Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, the film presents a new legendary cinematic pairing for the ages in the form of Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. All kidding aside, the two actresses are both very talented and really do have great chemistry together. Their feisty dynamic leads to some of the film's more entertaining moments and it is fun to see them butt heads. Keke Palmer is also a real standout, delivering a very solid performance. Actually, all of the actors are good in their roles, and while the material they have to work with isn't always the best, they infuse the proceedings with an appealing splash of charisma.
Though not a musical in the traditional sense, the movie is home to numerous musical performances. The characters don't break out into random song, but within the context of the choir's practices and competitions we are treated to many soulful melodies. These numbers are all staged and executed well, blending gospel music with contemporary hits. As far as I know, the cast all handle their own vocal duties and do a remarkable job.
Unfortunately, despite the cast's charm and the music's allure, the script and direction are all rather basic and mediocre. The plot offers nothing we haven't seen before, with all of the same dramatic beats we've grown accustomed to in similar films. Even ignoring the familiarity of the story, the filmmakers stay pretty close to the surface of all the conflicts, failing to engage the audience on a deeper level. Character development is also lacking, and a few of the film's more heated moments don't connect as well as intended.
Going along with the movie's thin characterizations, are some underdeveloped and at times quite superfluous subplots. G.G.'s relationship with her deceased husband, Bernard (Kris Kristofferson) is mostly skimmed over. This makes a fantasy duet between the two that occurs later in the film seem unnecessary (not to mention a little cheesy). Another subplot focusing on one of the adult choir members, Earla (Angela Grovey), is also oddly out of place. While I don't want to spoil the developments for any who might want to check out the movie, the storyline's tone seems ill-fit for the rest of the family friendly content, and its conclusion is extremely abrupt with a convenient resolution that comes out of nowhere.
'Joyful Noise' now carries the fine distinction of being my second favorite movie about a singing church choir (nothing beats 'Sister Act,' nothing!). Unfortunately, that's not exactly saying much. The cast is good and the musical performances are strong, but the script is thin, formulaic, sappy, and too unoriginal to offer much substance. Occasional sweetness aside, it's a fairly pedestrian, extremely middle-of-the-road effort, but it might be worth a rental to some.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Bros. presents 'Joyful Noise' on a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. A separate BD-25 and DVD disc are both housed in a keepcase that comes packaged in a cardboard slipcover. After a skippable promo reel for Blu-ray 3D, the disc transitions to a standard and rather boring, static menu (this seems to be uniform among most new WB releases). An insert with a code for a redeemable UltraViolet digital copy is also included.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio. With a few bursts of lively color and an overall pleasing level of clarity, this is a good video presentation.
The source is in pristine shape with a light layer of grain visible throughout. Detail is pretty good, but some indoor scenes tend to look a bit soft and dim. Outdoor sequences, however, feature a great sense of depth and pop with a very sharp image. Colors are vivid and nicely saturated without ever overpowering the picture. The opening and closing choir performances are particularly impressive, with sumptuous lighting design that bathes the screen with bold blues and purples. Contrast is high and blacks are steady (though just a hair gray in a few instances).
While some sequences are lacking a bit when it comes to fine details, as a whole, the transfer's appearance is very nice. There isn't much in the way of visual artistry behind the film's images, but for a what it is, it looks good and there are no major artifacts.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles. An additional Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also included. While the various musical numbers are quite impressive, the rest of the track's sound design is rather ho-hum, resulting in a decidedly mixed but still satisfying audio experience.
Speech and vocals remain full, clear and well prioritized throughout. The musical numbers are all enveloping, deep and aggressive, packing a wide dynamic range with strong fidelity. Stereo separation is strong for the songs and some faint but welcomed surround cues and audience reactions help to open up the soundstage further. The narrative portions of the film are not as impressive, however, with a comparatively small soundfield. Effects work is fairly sparse and while there is some very minimal environmental ambiance, the rear speakers remain very quiet. Bass activity is solid during the songs but is otherwise negligible. The audio elements are well balanced together, but the musical performances are mixed a bit higher, making transitions just a little jarring at times.
The mix is a little manic, but even though the narrative sections of the movie aren't as immersive as the musical performances they suit the material just fine. A bit more immersion throughout would have been welcomed, but the track manages to succeed anyway.
Warner Bros. has provided a mediocre collection of brief featurettes and a few extended songs. All of the supplements are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and the same subtitle options as the main film.
'Joyful Noise' is a mediocre, but overall sweet attempt to capitalize on the 'Glee' craze. Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah make for an entertaining on screen duo, but their chemistry and soulful voices can't elevate the thoroughly mediocre script. Video and audio are both good, offering a pleasing viewing experience. Supplements are pretty basic, but fans might enjoy the extended musical performances. Forgettable but harmless, this is a rental at best.