Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
songs in the Bible
DATING—Why won’t my parents allow me to single-date? Answer
GUIDELINES—What are the biblical guidelines for dating relationships? Answer
Should I save sex for marriage? Answer
My boyfriend wants to have sex. I don’t want to lose him. What should I do? Answer
How can I deal with temptations? Answer
What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer
small town churches
faith and determination
difficulties of strong-minded, polar-opposites working together
mother and daughter relationship
|Featuring:||Queen Latifah … Vi Rose Hill
Kris Kristofferson … Bernard Sparrow
Dolly Parton … G.G. Sparrow
Keke Palmer … Olivia Hill
Courtney B. Vance … Pastor Dale
Jesse L. Martin
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Farrell Paura Productions
Gospel Truth Pictures
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|Distributor:||Warner Bros. Pictures|
“Dream a lot louder”
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.
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.