Joyful-NoiseThe townspeople of Pacashau, Georgia, are struggling. The recession has hit this once vibrant community hard, employment is scarce and spirits are low. The Sacred Divinity Church Choir is the still-beating heart of this beaten-down town and now, with a place at the National Joyful Noise Competition, they have the opportunity to break its losing streak at last.

Cosmetically-tweaked country gal G.G.Sparrow intends to shake a little soul back into the staid and traditional singing group and her rebellious grandson is following right in her footsteps. New choir director Vi Rose Hill has a beautiful daughter with the vocal skill and the passion to take the troupe all the way to the top but sparks between the talented teens threaten to ignite a war between the old guard and the new. Can there ever be harmony in Pacashau again?

Oscar nominees Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton share top billing in this shambolic but uplifting story and are ably supported by young cast mates Keke Palmer, Jeremy Jordan and Dexter Darden. Though the diva duo lend weight to the DVD’s top line and credibility to a film that might all too easily be dismissed as generic schmaltz, it is ultimately the next generation who steal the show. Their clean-cut charm, guileless performances and honest to goodness talent combine to make Joyful Noise far better than it ought to be. Director Todd Graff, of Camp and Bandslam fame, is on familiar ground with his self-penned screenplay and he treads that ground with assurance. I found Camp emotionally articulate and refreshingly astute, for a film made with a teen audience in mind, and it remains a guilty pleasure of mine. Joyful Noise revisits those themes of first love, social awkwardness and a darned good sing song and plays the stories out on a multi-generational cast with mixed results.

The central love story between the young leads (Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan) is sweet but insubstantial. Frustratingly it is Parton’s G.G and her tale of lifelong love, cherished and lost, that gives us a glimpse at a better film lurking beneath the heavily Glee-influenced surface. A heart-swelling cameo from Kris Kristofferson demonstrates the potential there was for something deeper to be discussed. Similarly the recession-ravaged town is only really spliced into the plot as a device to spur the choir to their win. I was pleased to see the subject of Asperger’s syndrome raised, without resort to melodrama, in a family-friendly forum. Its handling wasn’t particularly sophisticated but neither is the film, it would be churlish to deny its good intentions. And I have to award bonus points for outstanding use of jazz hands at the choir’s big show! For fans of wholesome family fun, the DVD benefits from a featurette on the leading ladies and includes an UltraViolet digital copy.

There are no great surprises here and no clever twists, just a somewhat tired and muddled story, some rather lovely song arrangements and an endearingly enthusiastic cast. It is, despite the mild intrusion of contemporary social issues, a rather old fashioned film and won’t be to everyone’s taste. A couple of subplots are perhaps unnecessary and force the plot to meander to the point, the cuts between scenes verge on clunky and Pacashau’s population are improbably chipper but no real harm is done to the feel good factor. The result is a film that is flawed and unashamedly sentimental yet surprisingly entertaining.

[Rating:3/5]

Joyful Noise is released on DVD today.

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Emily Breen
Emily Breen began writing for HeyUGuys in 2009. She favours pretzels over popcorn and rarely watches trailers as she is working hard to overcome a compulsion to ‘solve’ plots. Her trusty top five films are: Betty Blue, The Red Shoes, The Princess Bride, The Age of Innocence and The Philadelphia Story. She is troubled by people who think Tom Hanks was in The Philadelphia Story and by other human beings existing when she is at the cinema.