Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor of Filmmaker magazine. He is also a photographer: his history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images is forthcoming; previews on Twitter (twitter.com/chighostsigns) as well as daily photography on Instagram: instagram.com/raypride. Twitter: twitter.com/rayPride. (Photo: Jorge Colombo.)
Writer-director Todd Graff (“Camp,” “Bandslam”) conducts a lazy, overlong runthrough of an underdog triumph plot in “Joyful Noise.” There’s a lot of family and friends fixing-up on the way from folksy Georgia to glory in Los Angeles. Pacashau Divinity Church Choir leaders Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) and G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton) scrap over the gospel style that is most pleasing to God versus the judges at the National Joyful Noise Competition. Hill’s sixteen-year-old daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer, “Akeelah and the Bee”) gets sweet on Sparrow’s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan), who’s come home after some unspecified trouble up in New York City. Sparrow (“She’s a little bit country. She’s a little bit rap ‘n’ roll”) and the youngsters want to make the choir pop with contempo tunes that praise the Lord with song and dance more accessibly than that old-time gospel. Theological matters are handled as cursorily as the romantic and melodramatic subplots of “Joyful Noise.” Sparrow’s husband goes to heaven; Hill’s to Iraq. The healing includes Olivia’s brother with Asperger’s. This fan of “Walk Away Renee” catalogues music arcana: “You know, gospel is the only genre with no one-hit wonders.” His mom sings “Fix Me Jesus.” Cue bland versions of numbers by Michael Jackson, Usher, Chris Brown, Paul McCartney, Sly & the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder. The best performance is Our Lady of Perpetual Tears Choir doing Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It.” Obviously God did not hear the prayers of the producers. With Courtney B. Vance, Dexter Darden, Angela Grovey, Paul Woolfolk, Jesse L. Martin, Kris Kristofferson. 118m. (Bill Stamets)
“A Joyful Noise” opens Friday.