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Movie Review

Joyful Noise

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language including a sexual reference.

Reviewed by: Scott Brennan

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Primary Audience:
Adults Teens
Music Comedy
1 hr. 58 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
January 13, 2012 (wide—2,700+ theaters)
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church choirs

small town churches

gospel music

budget cuts

faith and determination

difficulties of strong-minded, polar-opposites working together

mother and daughter relationship

Featuring: Queen LatifahVi Rose Hill
Kris KristoffersonBernard Sparrow
Dolly Parton … G.G. Sparrow
Keke Palmer … Olivia Hill
Courtney B. Vance … Pastor Dale
Jesse L. Martin
more »
Director: Todd Graff
Producer: Alcon Entertainment
Farrell Paura Productions
Gospel Truth Pictures
more »
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

“Dream a lot louder”

Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the Earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise (Psalm 98:4).

The definition of noise in the passage is “to shout, raise a sound, cry out, or to give a blast.” Another variation in the Strong’s Concordance is “to shout with a religious impulse.” Voilà! Those are the words I was looking for to describe this movie. It is an entertaining, formulaic film that “shouts with a religious impulse”—made only for adults and teens. [When I say religious, I am not referring to the most positive connotations of this word.] When you think of the movie “Make a Joyful Noise,” think Southern Gospel singing competition, meets “Glee”, and travels to “American Idol.” If you’ve seen the trailer, you have seen quite a bit. But read my objectionable content below before you think it is passable for Christian viewing.

While it’s not a secret that Dolly Parton professes to be a Christian, this is not a Christian film per se. It’s really more of a fluffy, romantic piece of entertainment with some family values folded into the mix, along with some finely seasoned spices that have a Christian flavor—that’s about it. I didn’t say it wasn’t entertaining, but probably more along the lines of suitable for television (after language editing), streaming or DVD release. Yes, it is refreshing to hear the name of Jesus praised openly in a movie, but it wasn’t the main reason for the film. The focus and emphasis of this plot is on the creature and not the Creator. Sad to say, God’s presence in the film is more incidental to the kind of church-going lives that often reflect obligation and habit, as opposed to “relationship with Christ” for many “so-called” American Christians.

The setting is a small southern town in Georgia. It’s there in the local church that the plot develops between two families. Dolly is the quintessential church supporter of well-to-do means, while Queen Latifah, is a struggling nurse whose husband left to go back into the service for a two year stint—leaving her with a lot on her plate, including two teenage kids to raise.

One child is her 16 year old coming-of-age-daughter, Kikki Palmer, who sings with her in the church choir, but has her eyes on the world just a bit too much (see the film “Preacher’s Kid”) and the other is her younger son with Asperger’s Syndrome, who is always talking about “one hit wonders” and wearing sun glasses indoors like Stevie Wonder.

When Dolly’s husband, the choir director (Kris Kristofferson), dies in the opening scenes (not really a spoiler), the Pastor has to choose his successor. Will it be Dolly, his widow and major church financial supporter or will it be Latifah, the more humble devotee to all that is “Christian” in the sometimes stricter religious sense of the word?

Next, add into the plot a not-so-surprising love interest for Keke. Parton’s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) returns to the town of his youth after getting kicked out his parents’ house in New York. Big-city-white-boy-hottie meets charming-angelic-Keke who stirs him deeply with her strong set of pipes. (It’s kind of like a “Footloose” feeling that’s created—only it’s singing, not dancing.) Latifah doesn’t think he’s changed much from his youth and predictably doesn’t want her daughter to have anything to do with him. Naturally, he joins the choir for all the wrong reasons, at least at first.

That’s the backdrop for the big build-up to the gospel competition they keep entering as a church choir, year after year—always losing to a Detroit group that scorches the stage (Kirk Franklin cameo). Will they take advantage of some musical changes and ideas that Randy comes in with, or stick with the old-time spirituals of both the Pastor and Latifah? With some surprises and quick turns in the plot, the story gets exciting with a “We’re-going-to-Hollywood-baby!” moment. There are a couple scenes and songs that should probably have been scrubbed on the cutting room floor at this point in the second act. [I noticed I wasn’t the only one yawning.] But the final 20 minutes brought me back. The excellent singing performances by Latifah, Keke, Jeremy and Dolly (along with great real life gospel choirs) really are the structural support to the success of the film.

Spiritual lessons and possible objections

There is a strong sense of family values promoted in the film. A devotion to family, spouses, and extending grace to wayward children and grandchildren are also noted. Probably the single best scene, and definitely the best dialog, occurred in a verbal knock-down between mother and daughter near the climax that you knew was going to happen right from the beginning of the film. While spiced with some obscenities and a violent slap, it had a lot of gritty truth that rang true—the kind teenagers everywhere need to hear once in a while. Their often selfish and self-centered ways need to be confronted now and then with a harsh dose of reality (Proverbs 22:6 came to mind). The fact that prayer occurs before meals (1 Thes. 5:18) and even the name of Jesus is used properly or song about in the film is also a plus (Luke 19:40). Finally, the consistency of showing up for choir and church on a weekly basis is also a credit to the perseverance of the saints in the church (Gal 6:9).

On the other hand, the ease with which they fling around several obscenities or profanities in the script is disconcerting and unnecessary. While it may be realistic, it doesn’t seem to fit the tone of this setting or the genre overall. There is also a lot of kissing, touching, hugging and alone time between a 16 year old girl and a boy who appears to be over 18 (his age not clear)—another thing that is slipped seamlessly into the plot without much objection. I am sure there will be someone to respond with even more, that I didn’t spell out, but let it be said here, I didn’t miss it.

The most unattractive part of the film is the way they turn a “one night stand,” (fornication between two single choir members) into an ongoing comedic element in the story. It just doesn’t sit well. Lines like, “They’re all probably saying ‘if they tap that they’ll die’,” just doesn’t bode well for Christians, especially singles, who are struggling to stay on the straight and narrow. While the “one night stand” isn’t promoted, it seems like it is almost accepted as part of life and—to some degree—the consequences are turned into a joke.

fornication in the Bible

Should I save sex for marriage? Answer

The end of Psalm 98 which I started with in this review ends with: “Let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the Earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.” The movie ends upbeat, with some elements of biblical grace mixed in with the more traditional love of family and friends. Only God can truly judge this film with righteousness and equity. While it is truly musically entertaining, and it is a pleasure to see Dolly back on screen after a 20-year hiatus, I can only give the film an average in morality. For a script that is buried in the Christian genre, the team could have taken this message a step further and not colored so far out of the lines with the sexual references and objections I mentioned earlier. It’s definitely not for children, and I would recommend only mature teenage viewing.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate [“God,” “My God,” “Oh Lord” and “Oh my God”—each used one / “s” words (7), _sses (6), d_mn (1), hell (1), “tap it”—slang for sex (1), 6 asses, 1 damn, 1 hell] / Sexual references: Moderate (nudity limited to some cleavage)

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—JOYFUL NOISE makes me want to join a choir. Joyful Noise is full of great music, entertaining conversations, some inspiration and laughter. I have to give this movie thumbs up for that.

I did ask myself some questions about their characters though. #1—Were they singing out of a love for their God? I questioned that especially on the first half of the movie. And #2—Why does the church overlook sin? I felt that the two that slept together seemed to be okay with about everyone. Making me feel that the movie is telling us it’s okay just to overlook sin and condone it…

Some positive in the movie was when QUEENS L’s character expresses GOD’S love to her son; she did well. That made me admire her character a little more. So again, good movie, but I have some issues with the storyline. NOW pardon me, as I stop writing and listen to some UPLIFTING CHRISTIAN MUSIC for my radio shows on KBCU AND Next Gen radio.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Rockinron Corino, age 48 (USA)
Positive—Good movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Michelle Karnowski, age 18 (USA)
Positive—At first, I was put off some by the issue of fornication with one of the members of the church choir. But as the movie rolled on… there was some redemption. The woman in question had consequences to her actions and also she chose to change her behavior and do things God’s way. I also enjoyed the music in this film, the acting, the drama and the comedic interplay. I highly recommend this film.

Compared to so many movies today this actually had some lessons in it that were Biblical. It’s not a film that you’d expect from a Christian company. But it is an amazing film considering it made it onto the big screen and it has some values, good acting and fun. I don’t think it’s appropriate for people under the age of approx. 15, depending on their maturity. The film includes the issues of marital separation and special needs.

One of Queen Latifah’s children has Autism or Asberger’s. Regarding the marital issue, things eventually head in a good direction. The movie gets off to a slow start… but it’s worth seeing. Great finale!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Ali, age 53 (USA)
Positive—I thought this movie was really cute… I always love Queen Latifah! She and Dolly Parton worked well together, and the singing was awesome, too. The only thing I would change would be the songs they sing at the end (you’ll see what I mean)… it was just kind of clichéd, I think, and not very inspiring, as it got closer to the end of the film. But still, overall, very cute and above average, in my opinion. This film focuses a lot on not judging others without getting to know them first, and also about forgiveness and second chances.

***SPOILER*** One more thing that did bother me was that one of the characters who attends church and is in the choir ends up sleeping with a fellow believer who goes to the church as well. He subsequently dies of a heart attack, and she feels extremely guilty. She asks her friend if she thinks God is judging her for her sin, and her friend says that God doesn’t work like that (or something along those lines). I had a problem with those scenes, because we are not to engage in sexual sin or excuse that kind of behavior. Sex is sacred and is designed for marriage. I wish the character would have repented of her sin and not just been sad about it because her significant other died. I did not see true repentance from her about it. ***END SPOILER***

This movie also kind of reminded me of “Sister Act.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Nicole, age 27 (USA)
Positive—Great songs… Great story line… Will make you cry and laugh
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Paul, age 55 (Canada)
Neutral—What I liked about the movie (besides the musical talent) was the honesty expressed by the son with Aspergers. I felt that he verbally expressed his feelings in a way that Christians struggle with—and many times is considered unacceptable by other Christians. I also liked the fact that there was not nudity or actual sex scenes shown.

What I disliked about the movie was the one night stand by the choir members. Not only does this go against Biblical teaching, there didn’t seem to be any reason for it. (The scene wasn’t necessary to support the plot.) Also, I feel the sexually related comments were overdone. Definitely not a movie for young children, and the PG-13 rating should not be taken lightly.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Mo, age 49 (USA)
Neutral—I, for one, am a CHRISTIAN man who loved this movie and found it hilarious, but was there really any need for all the foul language and disrespect to GOD in the movie, when I thought it was supposed to be a Christian movie, but all that aside, I loved it. Keke Palmer is a wonderful actress and so is the QUEEN.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Chris, age 22 (USA)
Neutral—I think this movie could have been really good… but the filmmakers just messed it up with a little too much drama and just plain weirdness. I enjoyed the banter between Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, but there wasn’t much more of that than there was in the trailers. I wish they had made Queen Latifah’s character a little more likable… I also wish that Kris Kristofferson had been in it a little more before his character died, because I thought his marriage with Dolly Parton looked really sweet, and I wanted to see more of it. Overall, I thought it was entirely dismissible… not my favorite “music competition” movie at all. I would take “Bandslam” or “Sister Act 2” over this one any day.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Kadie Jo, age 20 (USA)
Neutral—Why is it that the movie industry feels they should include repeated profanity? This film could be watched by more people without the negative language—offensive (swearing is a lack of better verbal skills). The relationship between the two lead women should have been resolved earlier. Christian values were not displayed as they are meant to be—compromising with the ways of the world. I could endorse this film, because I loved the music.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Joyce, age over 60 (USA)
Negative—This movie was not without its positive elements, and the music was enjoyable. If it had been set anywhere but a Christian church, I think I might have enjoyed it. But it was set in a church, and the picture it paints is what you might expect from a skeptical outsider trying to make sense of spiritual things. Not surprisingly, the result is a nearly total failure, because the hollowed-out social club in this movie is power-less, message-less, and Christ-less.

The confusion of spirit and emotion, the money motivated pastor, manipulations by the main characters, the denigrating (and ultimate collapse) of the standards of Queen Latifah’s character, the show-biz worship all served to frame Christianity as a backward irrelevance, except as a cultural memory. As a Christian who takes his faith seriously, I found this misinformed caricature of churches, Christians and my faith very offensive.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Ed Kornkven, age 54 (USA)
Negative—I was very disappointed with this movie. I was looking forward to a good Christian family movie, but did not find it here. I quickly realized this was not a Christian movie from the foul language from the kids and adults. The daughter continued to disrespect her mother and do things behind her back with Randy. At one point, the boy tells her she shouldn’t want to be a church girl all her life. Another part—a woman in the choir says she hasn’t been with a man in 4 years, and then has sex with a man in the choir. The next morning shows he died that night, and when the lady asks if she was being punished for having sex outside of marriage, another lady says God wouldn’t punish us for that.

It continually pushed that sin is okay and had more bad than good. I almost took my daughter, and am so relieved I didn’t, because it showed so many bad morals. This movie was definitely from a worldly perspective on what, sadly, they think true Christ followers are.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Teresa, age 30 (USA)
Negative—I totally agree Teresa. It’s so sad to me that this is truly the way that Christians are viewed. The house of God has been so abused. Shame on us.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: none
—Tina, age 40 (USA)
Negative—I took my 2 children (12 and 15) to see this movie, only to slip out after the part where the 2 were in bed !!! I was told it was a great Christian movie with wonderful Christian songs… like a musical… There are not many good family movies, so I was hoping this was one… I should of looked at the reviews, instead of listening to someone tell me it was a great Christian musical. Most of all, it was totally against what I want my children present Christ-like… or to think that that’s the way a young woman or man of Christ are like!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Taylor, age 49 (USA)
Negative—This movie made me laugh… was made about the church, but I didn’t like the way it was presented. It didn’t have anything about God or Jesus, was just a film they made using a church choir, so it didn’t have any meaning—just funny.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 2
—Carol, age 69 (USA)
Negative—This film provides a great example of what it means to take God’s name in vain. God is thrown in as afterthought, to make the songs sound religious, while it was all about them and not about God, at all. Dolly Parton’s character gives some very unChristian advice to the daughter of Queen Latifah’s character. Reminded me of the show “Seventh Heaven” where you had the pastor’s wife telling her daughter to wait to have sex until she was in love. The ungodly advice is worse, because it comes from someone who purports to love God.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Gordon, age 54 (USA)
Negative—I also would not recommend Christians go see this movie or buy a DVD of it. It is amazing how Hollywood tries to show actors trying to express the “joy of the Lord,” who probably do not even know the Lord or at least what He says in His Word. Also, singers that try to sound Pentecostal without the true Pentecostal experience make “noise,” all right, but not true “joyful noise” as Psalms 100:1 tells us to do. I do hope and pray these actors will have a true experience with Christ, who will be glad to give them His joy and peace and love, if they ask Him.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Philip C, age 64 (USA)
Negative—If you were thinking of viewing this, especially with your kids, and were expecting a “Christian movie”—be warned. Offensive language is plentiful; one very immoral plot point is turned into a sick running joke; a teen daughter’s defiance of her mother is glorified, and in the end she successfully gets everything she wants (against her parents” rules) after sneaking around to achieve it; and the entire relationship between the two female lead characters is an atrocious example of how Christian women should treat each other. I could go on, but those are some of the worst “low points”.

To be fair, I should add that Jesus and God were spoken of with respect and honor; characters “professed” faith and the need to worship and praise God (but then portrayed a really lot of behavior to the contrary). In my opinion—this is a secular film about a church choir—NOT a “Christian film,” at all. I might have otherwise rated it “average”—but I feel it more appropriate to rate it as “offensive” mainly because all of this content is smuggled in under the guise of Christianity. Very disappointing—I will not view again…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality:
—Nancy, age 43 (USA)
Comments from young people
Neutral—…this movie had great music. The songs were awesome! But, honestly, “Joyful Noise” is not exactly a Christian movie, at all. I did enjoy it, and some parts were really, really funny, but it does not have a good message. We thought the movie would end well, meaning that lessons would be learned and the kids would submit, but it doesn’t end like that at all! In the end Olivia (Keke Palmer) is still disrespectful to her mom and ends up getting her own way. She basically learns that at the age of 16, she is old enough to do whatever she wants, no matter what her mom says. And Randy, the dude Olivia likes, does not get any better—attitude wise—like we thought he would.

…this is not a movie for young kids! There were some bad scenes and lots of language! Overall, I liked “Joyful Noise” okay, because of the humor and the music, but, unfortunately, I would not call it a Christian movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Laurie, age 17 (USA)
Comments from non-viewers
Negative—I managed to find several movies this holiday season that I decided to view, and this movie’s trailer was constantly shown. I would submit that this movie is actually morally worse than most other movies since it condones sin within a “church” setting. The relationship between Queen Latifa and Dolly’s characters could be part of the overall theme, if the relationship ultimately was shown to be reconciled. However, in today’s society, with the need for all people… adults and teens both… to guard their personal purity, the movie trailer did nothing but show teens who acted as if the setting was anywhere… and not a church choir. The scene where the young lady has the temerity to tempt the young man to “not look at my butt” was profane in how she guarded her purity. This Web site also discussed premarital sex as a running joke… again, a profane view of God’s commands to marital purity.

Bottom line, look at the trailer with your spiritual eyes open, and you will see the message in the movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1½
—Casey, age 46 (USA)

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