Joyful Noise, the gospel choir movie musical with a $25 million budget, reached number four in the North American Box Office at the weekend –behind Contraband, Beauty and the Beast 3D and Mission: Impossible 4 –Ghost Protocol. With the exception of voicing Dolly Gnome in Gnomeo and Juliet, this is 65-year-old Dolly Parton’s first film appearance since the 1980s –has she still got what it takes?
The musical comedy, directed by Todd Graff of Camp fame and set in Georgia, stars Parton and fellow diva, Queen Latifah battling over the leadership of a small-town church choir entering a gospel competition. Will they be forced to overcome their differences, work together for the good of the choir, and become fast friends? Could Dolly Parton’s hair stand on its own?
The choir may be singing in harmony, but is the film’s message in tune with its audience?
It ain’t hurting anyone. Despite the film’s “below par” entry at number four and its arguable overshadowing by debates over Dolly’s cleavage tattoo, critics seem to have reached the fairly unanimous conclusion that Joyful Noise is a bit of harmless fun. City Arts describes it as occupying that “second-rate, quasi-gospel Sister Act middle ground”, which doesn’t seem to be intended as an insult. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers decided the film “goes down easy” and gave it two out of four stars. Bear in mind that these verdicts have been made regardless of the “presumptions notions” of small town life, “lame, PG-rated insults” and “dialogue that would choke two Meryl Streeps”.
So bad it’s good? To critics that way inclined, however, Joyful Noise is so much more than mediocre. New York Magazine called it “too transparently corny and manipulative to resent”, while Tyler Coates on Black Book has put his money on it being not just the “first great bad movie of 2012”, but the best. The film even made it onto Kate Muir’s list of The Times 50 best films of 2012 (£), thanks to the “untold levels of cheesiness” in the trailer.
Thank you for the music. According to Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, Joyful Noise “reflects the inspiration of Glee and God, in that order.” This is hardly surprising given that the music includes Michael Jackson’s ‘Man in the Mirror’, Fix Me Jesus, McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and an Usher, Chris Brown and Stevie Wonder mash-up. The songs gain the film a lot of credit; New York Magazine’s David Edelstein found himself tapping his feet and asking, “[H]ow can you resist that wah-wah funk guitar?” The duet between Dolly and Kris Kristofferson received particular enthusiasm, with the aforementioned Tyler Coates labelling it “the most amazing musical number in the history of cinematic musical numbers”. Quite a claim.
Plastic fantastic. Those who weren’t quite sold on the soundtrack have turned their attention to the talent. FemPop believes that Graff’s sub-standard directing is saved by the “sheer charm” of the stars, Queen Latifah and the “pleasantly picked” Dolly Parton. The Daily Mail describes the living legend as “the perfect fit” for the role, although HollywoodChicago.com have perceptively questioned where Dolly would have a found a plastic surgeon hidden in the deep South of America.