Directed by Todd Graff. Starring Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan, Kris Kristofferson, Dexter Darden PG cert, general release, 117 min
ABOUT TWO-THIRDS of the way through this cynical effort to repackage Glee for “faith audiences”, we get a faint hint of what might have been.
The indomitable Queen Latifah, an actor who always cheers the heart, finds herself in a verbal slanging match with Dolly Parton (who, for five decades, has needed no further introduction) in the service area of a busy Georgian restaurant. “I am what I am!” Parton squeaks. Glancing disrespectfully at the layers of botox and outbreaks of stretched skin, Her Majesty replies: “Maybe you were five procedures ago.”
Sounds fun, yes? Sadly, an apparently tired Dolly potters along in second gear throughout and, rather than focusing on that intriguing conflict, Joyful Noise spends most of its time lying about race relations, whittering about Jesus and constructing overlong MOR numbers that offend the viewers’ eardrums even as they defy credibility.
The film concerns an implausibly racially diverse church choir – an Asian here, a Caucasian there, people of colour elsewhere – that never gets past the semi-finals of a prestigious national competition. Call them The Andy Murray Singers.
A crisis arrives when the choirmaster (played briefly by a somnambulant Kris Kristofferson) keels over before the opening credits have played themselves out. Parton, the late conductor’s widow, expects to take over the job. But the pastor appoints the Queen.
Director Todd Graff has proved himself with contemporary musicals such as the diverting Camp and the excellent Bandslam. But the current project is so compromised that it doesn’t even succeed as high camp. Elaborate versions, scored to invisible orchestras, of such so-so songs as Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror and Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed drag on for what seems like weeks. The characters, even the naughty ones, are so anaemic that one finds oneself fretting about toxins in the local water supply.
Parton fans will be embarrassed. Latifah fans will be disappointed. Gospel fans will bemoan the lack of, well, gospel music. A film for nobody.