4 Stars — Inspiring
It is a delight to get caught up in the inspirational experience of every aspect of gospel music. Modern as well as traditional gospel music is an obvious symbol of the history and tradition of the Black Christian Church in America. In writer/director Todd Graf’s Joyful Noise, it is also obvious that the experience of attending the traditional “black church” in Georgia today is a far cry from the days of Martin Luther King Jr. It has been only 50 years since Dr. King noted that, “11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”
Joyful Noise tells the story of a well-integrated church in a small Georgia town that is struggling in the midst of the recession. Many people have lost their jobs, and the church is the one place that brings the community together and gives them hope. In this church, the music is the most exciting medium for carrying the Christian message of redemption, love, joy and peace.
The choir is led by charismatic Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) and has been a semifinalist in the national gospel choir competition for four years running.
It is no wonder that the choir is good when it includes Bernie’s wife, G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), and Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah). Unfortunately, tragedy strikes at the beginning of the story when Bernard Sparrow suffers a heart attack and passes away. Now the future of the choir lies in the throes of a power struggle between the equally popular G.G. and Vi Rose.
To add intrigue to the story, the next generation of singers is represented in the choir by Vi Rose’s beautiful and talented daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), and G.G.‘s rebellious but talented grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan).
Olivia and Randy come from vastly different backgrounds, yet they have a strong attraction to each other. Their voices and youthful perspectives give the choir a renewed zest for life that is infectious. Needless to say, G.G. and Vi Rose don’t see eye to eye on their progeny having a romantic or social relationship. It is in and around all of these relationships that the story has its plot, but the real story is the deeper one of how a group of people work through their differences, come to forgive one another and stay focused on what God is calling them to do with their church.
Joyful Noise could be compared to a Southern version of Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg. Some characters have rough edges and have to work out their problems with each other. The music, though, is upbeat and inspirational.
Gospel music is such a popular American idiom that it transcends the frequent calls for separation of church and state. While public schools and universities tread lightly on religious themes, gospel music classes are often filled to capacity. Even a very secular venue such as the Hard Rock Café will admit that their Sunday “Gospel Brunch” is one of their most popular events.
It is the theme of forgiveness, love, joy, peace and patience that flows from the words and spirit of the gospel choir that gives Joyful Noise its greatest strength and message. Every person that we meet in the choir has both a blessing to give and internal issues to resolve. In that sense, Joyful Noise is a story not much different from any of our own. The gift to us as viewers is that there is a powerful opportunity open to everyone to be transformed, supported, loved and living a life of great joy.
» Have you experienced the healing that comes from cooperating with people different from yourself? How did you change in that experience?
» Jealousy and competition occur within every human group and endeavor. How do you deal with your own and others’ jealousies?
» When the next generation engages, they often lift the music or art to a whole new level. Why do you think this is not always encouraged by the older generations?
— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.