Spoiler Alert: The following review may contain crucial elements to the movie.
"Joyful Noise" is a new musical that sings God's praises loud and proud.
At first glance, it's a film about the titanic catfight between two competing choir directors at a small Georgia church. Vi Rose Hill (played by Queen Latifah) has recently taken the reins of her congregation's singers, a move that displeases G.G. Sparrow (played by Dolly Parton). The whole congregation is caught between a rock and a hard place when Sparrow, the former director's widow, challenges Hill's rule. The pair couldn't wage war at a worse time – after all, the annual "Joyful Noise" choir competition is only months away.
The two divas differ on how their choir can best holler for the holy one come next year's contest. Hill remains steadfast in her love of traditional Gospel standards, while Sparrow sees victory in turning contemporary song and dance to the choir's advantage. To make matters worse, Hill's daughter Olivia (portrayed by Keke Palmer) is falling for Sparrow's troublemaking grandson Randy (played by Jeremy Jordan).
The growing gulf between the film's leading ladies is what makes "Joyful Noise" justified family fun. Latifah and Parton's characters cackle, plot, scratch and curse, reminding viewers that even the best among us are only human.
"I am who I am," Sparrow stubbornly declares.
"Well, maybe you were … five procedures ago!" Hill retorts.
"Who cares if I've had a few nips and tucks?" Sparrow spits back. "God didn't make plastic surgeons so they could starve!"
Though such a feud is often hilarious, it's also heartfelt. Sparrow seeks to honor her deceased husband's memory as their church's choir director, while Hill merely wants to care for her daughter and her autistic son Walter. With so much at stake, only a miracle can make the two women sing in tune.
"Joyful Noise" makes no bones that Christ's love leads the charge on that front. Inspired by his infatuation with Olivia, Randy returns to church and changes his life around. The teens soon become a couple, and their soaring duets seem like the final component the choir's lacked all along. As their caretakers continue arguing, the pair's passion rallies their community around praising Jesus in any way, shape or form.
This music-making gives "Joyful Noise" most of its magic. Olivia and Randy undergo radical transformations as they take their voices to new levels. The normally raucous Randy restrains his vocals and achieves new emotional depth, while Olivia overcomes her shyness and overwhelms him with a mighty roar she didn't know she had. The other singers follow suit, and before long the battle between Sparrow and Hill is less about yelling at each other and more about trumpeting God's glory before the world instead.
The film’s message is seemingly that faith should unite rather divide us. Regardless of how we sing, dance or pray, the praise we give is dedicated to the same divinity. Regardless of whether worshippers belt out the Gospel or whisper it instead, the most "Joyful Noise" of all remains joining together for the Lord.
"A Joyful Noise" is in theaters everywhere Jan. 13.