Capsule/Summary **½Writer/Director Todd Graff’s Joyful Noise mixes a story about feuding divas in a small-town competitive Gospel choir with a Romeo and Juliet-lite subplot about a romance between younger members of their families. The film never manages to rise above its cliched plot, but viewers may be entertained by the charismatic cast and the multiple rousing musical numbers which mix a handful of original songs in with several re-workings of pop and R&B classics into Gospel choir set-pieces. The Blu-ray features excellent video with disappointingly bland audio. Extras consists of a number of superficial featurettes and an interesting deleted scene.
Directed By: Todd Graff
Starring: Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton Keke Palmer, Courtney B. Vance Jeremy Jordan, Kris Kristofferson, Dexter Darden, Jesse L. Martin, Angela Grovey, Andy Carl, Dequina Moore, and Kirk Franklin
Studio: Warner Bros.
Film Length: 118 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: January 31, 2012
The Film **½
Joyful Noise follows the tribulations of the members of a church choir in the small financially depressed town of Pacashau, Georgia. When choir leader Bernard Sparrow (Kristofferson) passes away unexpectedly, Pastor Dale (Vance) appoints the serious minded Vi Rose Hill (Latifah) to take his place, much to the consternation of Bernard’s more liberal-minded widow G.G. Sparrow (Parton) who is also the Church’s largest financial supporter. The simmering conflict between G.G. and Vi Rose is elevated a few degrees when G.G.’s “Bad Boy” Grandson Randy Garrity (Jordan) arrives in town and begins a relationship with Vi Rose’s straight as an arrow daughter Olivia (Palmer). The choir’s internal tensions threaten to throw them off track just as they are preparing for a regional competition against their archrival choir from Detroit.
With Joyful Noise, Writer/Director Todd Graff appears to be courting an audience consisting of the intersection between fans of gospel choirs and fans of the TV series Glee. I am not sure the end result will satisfy even that select group. Despite the fact that the film’s protagonists are all members of a gospel choir, religious matters are usually kept at arm’s length. One could argue that the assemblage of undisguised cliches that is the film’s plot could represent a parable-like morality play, but the final result does not play much differently than if the film had been about a secular dysfunctional show choir trying to come together to win a competition.
This would not be a problem if it was an original and consistently entertaining film as well, but it plays like an assemblage of leftover parts from made for second-tier cable channel movies with unusually big stars in key roles. While elements such as the G.G. and Vi-Rose rivalry and the young romance bridging the gap between them are the stuff of classic drama, no effort is made to apply these elements in a creative, contemporary, or original way.
When the film does manage to be entertaining, it is largely due to above and beyond the call of duty efforts from its charismatic cast. The odd couple of Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton do seem to be be enjoying themselves as they spar on screen. While the chemistry between Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan does not exactly light up the screen, being ridiculously good looking goes a long way towards making them a believable “opposites attract” couple. Courtney B. Vance deserves some special kind of acting award for his efforts to portray Pastor Dale. The script gives him almost nothing to work with but pages and pages of dialog that are dictated more by the needs of the plot than any internal logic to his character. Vance somehow manages to imbue this thankless role with a degree of humanity that is nowhere to be found on the page. The real scene-stealer in the cast is Angela Grovey as choir member and choreographer Earla. One can’t help thinking while watching the film that a separate film focusing on Earla would have been a more entertaining viewing experience.
The music scenes are hit and miss, but on balance are a welcome respite from the predictable and dull story. The original songs created for the film actually manage to hold their own with several popular and R&B songs that have been lyrically re-worked with varying degrees of success to play in a Gospel choir setting. Vocals are marred by Autotune artifacts on a number of occasions, which is a shame since the cast can actually sing.
The Video ****½This 1080p AVC-encoding is letterboxed to the film's original 2.4:1 aspect ratio. Image quality is generally quite good with a consistently warm but never exaggerated color palette. Contrast settings yield very deep blacks in shadowy areas of the screen and bright highlights that frequently teeter on (and occasionally over) the edge of blooming. Digital artifacts are minimal to non-existent.
The Audio ***½The film's sound mix is provided courtesy of a DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 multi-channel encoding. The mix and lossless mastering are something of a lost opportunity as they do not do full justice to the film’s multiple rousing musical numbers. Use of the surround field is very limited, and the music is a bit too dynamically compressed to take advantage of a good home theater amplifier and speaker set-up. An alternate Spanish language track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1.
The Extras **½All extras are presented in 1080p AVC-encoded video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio unless otherwise noted below.
When the disc is first played, the viewer is greeted with a Warner Blu-ray 3D promo (1:48).
Proper on-disc extras include the following:
Spotlight on a Song: Dolly Parton's "From Here to the Moon" (4:22) is a featurette that discusses how Dolly Parton came to write three songs for the film before narrowing its focus to the poignant love song duet From Here to the Moon. On camera comments are offered by Producer Broderick Johnson, Writer/Director Todd Graff, Composer Mervyn Warren, and Kris Kristofferson (“Bernard Sparrow”).
Inspiration of "Joyful Noise" (5:53) is a featurette covering how Writer/Director Graff’s personal history (his mother was a church choir director) informed the film’s story. It goes on to briefly cover the film’s casting, recording, rehearsals, and production. While still lacking depth, this featurette is the most substantial piece of behind the scenes “making of” material on the disc. On camera comments are provided by Graff, Producer Michael Nathanson, Warren, Queen Latifah (“Vi Rose Hill”), Dolly Parton (“G.G. Sparrow”), and Dexter Darden (“Walter Hill”).
Make Some Noise (2:26) Is an ADD-paced promo with several brief interview snippets. It amounts to a trailer intercut with plot explanations from cast members. On camera comments are provided in blink and you will miss them snippets from Jeremy Jordan (“Randy”), Parton, Keke Palmer (“Olivia Hill”), and Darden.
Leading Ladies (2:01) Is two minutes of intense mutual admiration from Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton with an interjection from Darden expressing admiration for both of them at once.
"He's Everything" Live (7:14) Focuses on a concert performance at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in which Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton performed one of the original songs from the film to an enthusiastic Gospel music audience. It begins with rehearsal footage and pre-show footage from the day of the concert before leading up to the event itself. Interspersed with the early footage are interview segments from Graff, Parton, and Latifah.
Extended Songs is a collection of three complete musical performances that were presented in abbreviated or intercut form in the finished film and one musical number that was completely deleted.
- Not Enough Love performed by Latifah, Parton, and the Cast (1:25)
- In Love performed by Kirk Franklin (4:59)
- I’m Yours performed by Palmer and the cast (4:24)
- Ride the Mighty High performed by Karen Peck (3:41)
I’m Yours is a deleted scene from the film set in a high school gymnasium, although the song appears in part in another scene and is also heard over the closing credits.
Deleted Scene - “Stop Calling Me Grandma” (1:46) is a scene cut from early in the film between Randy and G.G. in her kitchen. It establishes Randy’s “bad boy” past a bit more concretely than in the finished film, but the stories are not as interesting as the ones viewers are likely to imagine in their own heads based on people’s reactions to Randy. It is an interesting deleted scene, but ultimately a good cut from the film.
SD DVD A copy of the film on SD DVD is also included in this multi-disc set. The DVD is a barebones presentation with alternate audio in Spanish and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish. When first played, the SD DVD includes unique promos not present on the Blu-ray version. They are presented in 4:3 letterboxed video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio.
- Warner Blu-ray Promo (1:53)
- WB Insider Rewards Promo (1:16)
- Rock of Ages Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Blu-ray/DVD Trailer (2:27)
Ultraviolet Digital Copy The disc also comes packaged with an access code for an Ultraviolet Digital Copy of the film. This allows users with a Flixster account to access a streaming version of the film on computers and certain tablets and mobile devices. It also allows viewers with Flixster Collections software to download a copy to their computer's hard drive.
PackagingThe Blu-ray and SD-DVD discs are enclosed in a standard-sized Blu-ray case with hubs on both inside covers to secure them in place. The only insert is a two sided sheet with information on how to redeem an Ultraviolet digital copy on one side and a promo for the Warner Insider Rewards program on the other. The hard case is enclosed in a slipcover that reproduces the same cover art with the addition of some promotional graphics concerning the inclusion of the SD DVD and Ultraviolet Digital Copy.