Imagine if a Lifetime movie and American Idol had a baby. That pretty much sums up Joyful Noise, Todd Graff's feel-good comedy-melodrama-musical about a small-town Georgia gospel choir trying to get its act together for a national competition. The choir has two feuding leaders – the struggling, down-to-earth mom (Queen Latifah) and the flamboyant grandma holding the purse strings (played by Dolly Parton, or a similarly made-up drag queen). There are also about 50 subplots, ranging from a kid with Asperger's and an absent dad, to deadly sex and a hardware store closing.
The story is about an inch deep, existing simply to let its two divas stomp around, deliver country-fried bromides, sing a few songs and get in a catfight before hugging it all out in church. I'm no fan of Tyler Perry's movies, but at least those have a distinct voice. Joyful Noise, clearly aiming for Perry's mix of broad comedy, gospel singing and family affirmation, feels written by committee, design to please everyone and offend no one. Even the music was all pop songs with no overt religiosity. Pretty sure Sly Stone's "I Want to Take you Higher" wasn't written for the pulpit, but then, I admittedly don't get out much on Sunday mornings. Starts Fri., Jan. 13.