It is admittedly a little hard for me to get into many films that discuss faith or use such a theme as a backdrop. Joyful Noise tends to look at things from a more musical point of view when it comes to the characters' motivations, and even has a couple of mostly familiar faces which (depending on your proclivities) is a welcome or dreaded sign.
Written and directed by Todd Graff (Bandslam), things seem to be going well in a Georgia town home to a popular church choir when the head of the choir dies due to a sudden heart attack. The decision is made to name Vi (Queen Latifah, Chicago) head of the choir, a somewhat controversial choice in light of the fact that the director's widow G.G. (Dolly Parton, Nine to Five) may have been the better choice. However, her more modern musical choices may have been the reason why she did not get the gig. G.G.'s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) is as brash and saucy and her 'meemaw,' though he is an immensely talented singer whose natural gifts could help elevate the choir to new heights. Randy also starts to develop a friendship with Vi's daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer, Akeelah and the Bee), which additionally complicates things between mother and daughter. The choir decides to go out to Los Angeles for a national choir competition called Joyful Noise. Will the choir win? Will various personal hatchets be buried? There's only one way to find out!
A couple of the main plotlines that I touched upon earlier are conflicts that many others have seen before in one fashion or another in other movies through the years. They come off about as well as previously visited storylines do. The more fascinating parts of the film lie within Vi's family dynamic. Her husband left her and her children (she has a younger son who is suffering from Asberger's Syndrome) when the latter were very young, and this continues to cause tension between mother and daughter. Seeing Vi deal with this familial stress while managing the choir and even incorporating her faith in a quiet manner results in a understated and capable performance from Latifah.
On the other side of the stage, Dolly Parton's character does not have a lot to do, but what she has is harmless. She is dealing with the loss of her husband and trying to rein in the wild horse that is her grandson. Moreover, she is juggling that with her allegiance to the choir and possible creative friction with Vi. Maybe with a better performer it would be a more memorable turn, but Parton has always seemed to lack any real dramatic chops for me. She provides some homespun humor in most everything I have seen her in, and here I'm just left feeling underwhelmed. The only real emotion she seems to show is over a song she sings for the film about her husband's death. She cannot provide any expressions because, well, she does not look like she once was, and combined with the general awkwardness of providing depth to her character, combined with the other plotlines that transpire, make one want to get through this two hours as quickly as possible.
That grievance aside, let's not mince words here; when one sees a film that stars the likes of Queen Latifah AND Dolly Parton in it and they are both singing, you are going to like it or you won't. And in Joyful Noise, the two go along for a ride in a story that is not all that creative, but the songs are intriguing and fun. So maybe this is a case where the soundtrack is better than the film? And if that's the case, why not just release the CD instead of subjecting people to two hours of the above the title stars?
The Blu-ray Disc:
Warner presents Joyful Noise in an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen presentation that is decent. Lots of Dolly (the actress) shots are presented in warm-ish lights, which I guess considering her mileage is to be expected. Colors are vivid and look good, and flesh tones are replicated as accurately as possible, and during the big competition sequences the on-stage performances look decent, despite possessing a bit of image noise. Detail in the foreground is lacking a bit, though background detail is deep and clear. I can't say I thought I would get wowed watching this on Blu-ray, and I wasn't.
The DTS-HD Master audio track is here to help make the many songs in the film sound good, and it lives up to the assumption here. The songs are both consistent and immersive, with the subwoofer engaging when it needs to. In the non-music scenes, dialogue is well-balanced and requires little adjustment, and there are some hints of channel panning and directional effects occasionally sprinkled through the soundtrack. I was not expecting reference quality material by any means, but Noise takes full advantage of the resources given to it.
There are a few things here, but the length of time on each is pretty brief. "Spotlight on a Song" (4:22) examines the "From Here to the Moon" song that Parton sings in the film from initial composition to recording and performing it. "Inspiration of Joyful Noise" (5:53) looks into the hows and whys of Graff's idea for the film, some casting ideas and the cast's thoughts on the story. "Make Some Noise" (2:26) is a montage of clips on the young people in the film, while "Leading Ladies" (2:01) is the same thing, with the focus being on the stars. "'He's Everything' Live" (7:14) shows us Parton and Latifah performing a song at a real choir competition. While extended performances of four songs follow, and one deleted scene (1:46) shows us why Parton's character does not like to be called Grandma. There is a second disc which houses the standard definition edition of the disc (from whence the screengrabs come from), along with an insert for a redeemable code which turns into a streaming version of the film via the Ultraviolet digital technology.
Joyful Noise occasionally flirts with being an interesting character driven piece, but does not want to make the leap into the field, instead reverting to safe, slightly saccharine convention and loses my interest in the process. Technically the Blu-ray is decent, though from a bonus material perspective it is somewhat bland. Unless choirs, Dolly Parton, Queen Latifah or any combination therein are your cup of tea, it may be worth passing over.