All hail the Queen. By which, of course, I mean the sovereign named Latifah, the screen powerhouse whose effect on moviegoers is to make them sit taller, breathe more deeply, and open hearts more fully. I am a faithful subject who unapologetically enjoys Queen Latifah's movie vehicles, however shiny or rusty.
Joyful Noise, a Gospel-inflected Glee written and directed by Todd Graff with more affection than art, is in the latter category. His affection carries the day. Not since Dreamgirls have I heard a movie audience burst into spontaneous applause after on-screen musical numbers. It's the sequences between the numbers that are instantly forgettable.
In this film set in Pacashau, Ga., where the only store left on Main Street is a struggling hardware concern, Latifah plays Vi Rose, a choir lady whose chief article of faith is that parishioners don't want to hear your voice, they want to hear God through you. In this, Vi Rose is seriously mistaken, something that GG Sparrow (Dolly Parton), Vi's competitor for the newly vacated job of chorus director, does not fail to remind her. One of Graff's notable achievements is framing Latifah, nearly six feet tall, and Parton, a ringlet short of five feet, in the same shot.
Vi Rose is a true believer in Gospel music and tough-love mothering, much to the annoyance of her teenage daughter, Olivia (lovely Keke Palmer, star of Akeelah and the Bee and television's True Jackson). GG's taste for a mashup of pop and country with her hymns, not to mention her hands-off grandmothering of Randy (Jeremy Jordan), doubly offends Vi Rose. The film's plot hinges on whether Vi Rose's Gospel songs or Randy's pop/Gospel mashups will be sung at the big church choir competition.