Like something out of a circus sideshow, the lavishly disfigured remains of Dolly Parton’s face appear onscreen for the first time since 1991’s Straight Talk, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t fascinated watching all these plasticized, ill-fitting spare parts attempt to emote. Not since seeing Cher in Burlesque have I had such a grand old time watching an iconic performer struggle so mightily just to get words out of her mouth.
Alas, the occasion is Joyful Noise, a ruthlessly market-tested entertainment-product clumsily engineered for church groups with little interest in preaching to anybody outside the choir. Parton plays second banana to Queen Latifah, each vying for leadership of a Georgia chorus, headed for a national competition while trying to stave off the influence of these rascally kids today and all their dang hip-hop music.
Latifah takes the lead, predictably sassy and rather disappointingly refusing to display nearly as much cleavage as her co-star. Poor Kris Kristofferson doesn’t even make it through the end credits alive, leaving this recession-plagued Georgia choir floundering without a leader on the eve of State Finals. Unluckily for us, there’s a breathtakingly awful performance by Jeremy Jordan as Parton’s rebellious grandson. The kid tries to drag this choir into an unfortunate modern music era with some terrible song selections, while the movie awkwardly lurches from one easily resolved non-conflict to another. The picture is so slovenly edited, you could probably shuffle all these scenes out of order and the Joyful Noise would still make just as much sense. (And then the kid with Asberger’s kicks a school bully in the nuts! Seriously.)
The musical numbers suffer from terrible lip-syncing, so hilariously fussed-over and ruthlessly auto-tuned in a recording studio that any semblance of live performance is lost. Music was kind of the point of this whole thing, right?
I did, however, enjoy when Kristofferson comes back from the dead to sing a duet with Dolly.