“Fix Me Lord”

Joyful Noise is the kind of movie you want to love.  It has many of the right pieces for a family, feel good movie.  While not exactly a pair we’d expect to see at Wal-Mart hanging out, there is Dolly Parton (9-to-5), a diva in winter, and Queen Latifah (Stranger than Fiction), a diva in mid life, both of whom have personality to fill ten screens worth of movie chewing up scenery AND getting to belt out catchy songs.  Even the most generic of scripts should be able to provide enough set up to let them do their thing and entertain an audience of ninety minutes.  Alas …

When choir director, Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) passes away unexpectedly, the mantle of leadership passes on to Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) rather than his wife, G.G. (Dolly Parton), thus stirring the pot on their simmering rivalry.  Vi Rose is a single mom—since her husband, played by Jesse L. Martin, skipped out on them via the military—holding her household together, taking care of her son, Walter (Dexter Darden) who has Asberger’s Syndrome, and her hot and anxious to date teenage daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer).

G.G., on the other hand, has recently taken in her ne’er do well nephew, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), who immediately is drawn to Olivia.  G.G. also happens to be the major donor to their church as their choir continues to battle their way through a choir competition.  Olivia and Randy are the new generation of the choir, wanting to take things in a new direction, while Vi Rose and their pastor, Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance, between he and Martin, the movie serves as a safehaven for Law & Order alums), wants to keep things in a more traditional vein.

With the town facing difficult economic times, the show choir trying to make regionals gives the townsfolk something to have hope in.  Throw in the numerous musical numbers and there is more than enough going on for any movie.  Once you add the numerous subplots—the journey of Walter in wanting to be normal, the romantic entanglements of the choir members, the Romeo & Juliet romance between Olivia and Randy (including rival suitors)—and you have a movie that unspools over all over the place not quite sure what story it wants to tell.

“I just don’t see what’s so great about God.” –Walter

One of the spiritual themes that runs through the movie is the wrestling with the question “Why?”:  why is the town suffering?  Why did Bernard have to die?  Why did God allow bad things?  (as Walter points out, in referring to his condition, that “He’s who did this to me.”) Queen thinks of God as a parent and that we trust in Him as a father even when we don’t understand Him.  Her theodicy, a justification of God, is one way to reconcile the idea of a good, all powerful God and the reality of evil. The fact of the matter is that God is good and is also omnipotent. God created a world which contains evil and had a good reason for doing so (for reasons of greater good that we don’t understand right now). So the fact that the world contains evil is consistent with a Christian view of God. Yet we still want this all knowing, all powerful God to do something about the evil. We want to accuse God, point out how He has screwed up and turned His back on us for too long. We’re tired of His seeming silence and indifference to our sufferings.

The image of God as both good and severe, a God that fit readily into our (Old Testament kind of) paradigm, was gradually replaced with that of a one-dimensional, only-good God, as if Love is the only dimension of who He is.  There is nothing wrong with seeing God as good, as long as you realize that is not all He is. We have many sides to us, so we can only imagine how complex He is.  We forget passages like “Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God” (Romans 11:22a, The Message version).  But this is something to continue to wrestle with, though the short answer is “I don’t know.”

“God judges a man on two things:  on his faith and on the content of his heart.” –Pastor

With Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, Joyful Noise has two generations of down to earth divas not allowed to truly cut loose and do their thing.  It doesn’t know how to give them stuff to do, so it keeps throwing storylines like hard dinner rolls hoping to nail its audience.  Both have proven comedy chops but aren’t given enough space to lift this mediocre mess.  Even sleepwalking through this script, they still easily outshine the young leads on whom the film truly rests.  Though predictable and earnest, it is buoyed by great music.  However, even that’s not enough to rescue a movie so unsure of itself and its laughs. As The Bad News Bears of the gospel music set (with Queen Latifah’s rallying speech being a riotous highlight), Joyful Noise showed flashes of what it could have been.