Stop me if you've heard this one: A down-and-out underdog overcomes all obstacles to rise to the top by putting aside their differences and reaching a mutual understanding, arriving at their destination closer than ever as a team and wiser for the experience.
OK, that's probably not fair. Lots of movies have found success making variations on that theme. But when you clutter that formula with an excess of subplots, clichéd dialog and a treacly message competing for the spotlight, it's no wonder they described this movie as "noise."
In its simplest form, "Joyful Noise" is about a gospel choir coming together to win a national competition and bring hope to their failing and downtrodden little town. Queen Latifah plays Vi Rose Hill, a hardworking traditionalist and overprotective mother. Dolly Parton essentially plays Dolly Parton in the form of Vi Rose's "rival," G.G. Sparrow.
Aside from a few catty exchanges and a minor food fight girl brawl, this rivalry proves stilted, which seems confusing since it's made out to be such an integral part of the story at the beginning of the film. Similarly, the build-up to the big choir competition is decidedly lackluster and at times is merely an afterthought in the screenplay.
Instead, the audience gets to wade through a predictable forbidden romance between Vi Rose's daughter and G.G.'s grandson, as well as a host of other subplots that wander through the spotlight and enjoy almost as much screen time and precedence as the "main" storyline. Are they entertaining? To a small extent; that's what subplots are designed for. But they're filler for a reason, and "Joyful Noise" is a perfect example why. Here they drag on for far too long and drown an already feeble story.
The plot eventually gets around to drawing attention back to the main storylines – mostly by just dropping the extraneous ones or resolving them with as much transparency as a children's book. Even with this attempt at focus, the audience must still suspend their belief (and much of their logic) in order to keep the rest of the story afloat. That is, if they make it far enough to make sense of everything – the movie takes almost its full two-hour runtime to quit switching gears and get to a coherent point, and even then they can't help but muddle things up.
Packed with multiple one-dimensional characters and almost as many distracting plot points, "Joyful Noise" is excessive and unnecessary. The only thing remotely interesting is the music, but even that isn't worth slogging through two hours of messy mediocrity.
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