Six months into 2012 and we have one of the big contenders for letdown of the year. Now, you would think that a movie starring the Queen and Dolly as two at-loggerheads members of a gospel choir would be a decent night out with plenty of sass and a good share of laughs and tunes. But, songs aside, Joyful Noise never makes the best use of its leading ladies, with the musical numbers failing to fully compensate for a decidedly patchy script. Take out a few curses and the odd, ever-so-slightly risqué joke and this is a Sunday afternoon TV movie - all you need is crackers to go with the cheese.
When Bernie Sparrow (Kristofferson), director of a small-town Georgia choir dies, his wife GG (Parton) reckons she's going to take up where he left off - not only because of her voice, but also due to the fact that she's bankrolling the choir. The pastor (Vance), however, has other ideas and gives Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) the job.
Vi Rose is a great singer, but she doesn't have GG's spark and the stresses of her family life has limited her capacity to really let herself go on stage. Vi Rose's world is made up of worry: her husband Marcus (Martin) is away with the military, son Walter (Darden) has Asperger's Syndrome and daughter Olivia (Palmer) is now a young woman craving independence.
Enter Randy (Jordan), GG's tearaway grandson from New York, to shake everyone's lives up. He befriends Walter, gets the hots for Olivia and gives Vi Rose yet another reason to dislike GG. But he's also a great singer who has plenty of ideas about how Joyful Noise can break their regional competitions jinx and qualify for the national choir championships. Now, is Vi Rose brave enough to give him a chance - on-stage and with her daughter?
Fair-dos to Dolly for starring in a movie where she's at the receiving end of jokes about plastic surgery ("I am who I am", "Maybe you were five procedures ago"), but the feeling persists throughout Joyful Noise that she and Latifah could ad-lib better than the majority of the material they're given here. And for all the sweetness and life lessons on-screen, this hotchpotch of young hearts running free, rivalries and regrets comes across as being both out of touch and a cynical exercise in ticking as many boxes on the demographic checklist as possible.
Dolly and Latifah should think about a different kind of sequel – making an album together.