Joyful Noise

Joyful Noise

Dolly Parton, Keke Palmer and Queen Latifah in JOYFUL NOISE, a film by Todd Graff. Photo credit: Van Redin. Picture courtesy of Alcon Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Joyful Noise (2012)

Opened: 01/13/2012 Wide

Georgetown 1401/13/2012 - 03/01/201249 days
Showcase Cinem...01/13/2012 - 02/02/201221 days
AMC Loews Meth...01/13/2012 - 02/02/201221 days
AMC Deer Valley01/13/2012 - 02/02/201221 days
Columbia Park ...01/13/2012 - 01/26/201214 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Comedy/Musical

Rated: PG-13 for some language including a sexual reference.


Oscar® nominees Queen Latifah ("Chicago," "Hairspray") and Dolly Parton ("Transamerica," "Steel Magnolias," "Nine to Five") star in Alcon Entertainment's and Warner Bros. Pictures' "Joyful Noise," a funny and inspirational story of music, hope, love and renewal.

The small town of Pacashau, Georgia, has fallen on hard times, but the people are counting on the Divinity Church Choir to lift their spirits by winning the National Joyful Noise Competition. The choir has always known how to sing in harmony, but the discord between its two leading ladies now threatens to tear them apart. Their newly appointed director, Vi Rose Hill (Latifah), stubbornly wants to stick with their tried-and-true traditional style, while the fiery G.G. Sparrow (Parton) thinks tried-and-true translates to tired-and-old.

Shaking things up even more is the arrival of G.G.'s rebellious grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan). Randy has an ear for music, but he also has an eye for Vi Rose's beautiful and talented daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer), and the sparks between the two teenagers are causing even more friction between G.G. and Vi Rose.

If these two strong-willed women can put aside their differences for the good of the people in their town, they--and their choir--may make the most joyful noise of all.

Starring with Latifah and Parton are Keke Palmer ("Akeelah and the Bee"), Courtney B. Vance ("Extraordinary Measures"), Jeremy Jordan (Broadway's "Bonnie and Clyde"), and Kris Kristofferson ("Dolphin Tale"). Rounding out the main cast are Dexter Darden, Angela Grovey, Paul Woolfolk and Jesse L. Martin.

Todd Graff ("Camp," "Bandslam") directed "Joyful Noise" from his original screenplay. The film is produced by Oscar® nominee Michael Nathanson ("L.A. Confidential"), Joseph Farrell, Catherine Paura, and Oscar® nominees Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove ("The Blind Side"). The executive producers are Timothy M. Bourne, Queen Latifah and Shakim Compere, with Yolanda T. Cochran and Steven P. Wegner serving as co-producers.

The behind-the-scenes team includes cinematographer David Boyd, production designer Jeff Knipp, editor Kathryn Himoff and costume designer Tom Broecker. Five-time Grammy Award winner Mervyn Warren composed the score.

The musically driven story also brings together the sounds of gospel, pop, country, rock and R & B with memorable songs, performed by the cast, from a wide range of artists, including Michael Jackson, Usher, Chris Brown, Paul McCartney, Sly & the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder. Dolly Parton also wrote original songs for the film, including "Not Enough" and "From Here to the Moon and Back."

Alcon Entertainment presents a Farrell Paura Productions/O.N.C. Entertainment Production, "Joyful Noise," being distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

About the Production

She's a little bit country. She's a little bit rap 'n roll.

From Christmas carols to "Amazing Grace" to the perennially popular musical "Godspell," the idea of a making a joyful noise transcends religion, culture and background.

Writer/director Todd Graff affirms, "Music has always been a common language, and gospel music is no exception. Gospel has evolved from the traditional spirituals to rock, hip-hop and R & B, and that's reflected in the movie 'Joyful Noise.'"

Drawing on childhood memories, Graff crafted his tale about two strong-minded, but opposite women in a small town Southern gospel choir who trade high notes and low blows in their heated and humorous quest to win the Joyful Noise national choir competition and bring hope to their struggling town.

Graff states, "I grew up surrounded by music, including a houseful of ladies coming over every Tuesday and Thursday night to sing while my mom conducted. It made an enormous impression on me. Money can be scarce, life can be scary, and bad things happen to people you love, but there's art and music and faith and family to make us happy in the world--and to try and overcome is always worth the effort."

Two movie and music icons, Queen Latifah, whose given name is Dana, and Dolly Parton, play the choir's embattled leading ladies.

Like Graff, Latifah was also influenced by various relatives who directed choirs. Also serving as executive producer, Latifah portrays conservative parent Vi Rose Hill, who wants to avert change at all cost. "Dolly and I had a lot of conversations before the film started," she says. "We felt that on top of making a good movie, and some good songs, we could actually uplift folks. 'Joyful Noise' is basically a movie about people making it through challenges, pulling together to accomplish a goal and reclaim their spirits along the way. That's what a lot of people need today, hope."

Dolly Parton plays G.G. Sparrow, the feisty church benefactor who wants to bring its choir into the 21st century. "How could I not do it? Not only is the film very music-driven, but it's fun and reflects strong family values. It's about real people out there in the real world and I think we all need encouragement with all the chaos right now. Besides, I'm crazy about Dana."

The producers were instantly drawn to Graff's vision for a movie that touched on issues being faced by so many people today, in both small towns and big cities. The characters at the center of the story have to persevere, with faith in their community and in their church, all expressed through music and more than a little laughter.

Producer Michael Nathanson attests, "'Joyful Noise' is a movie with heart. Music itself is a character in the film, spanning the full spectrum that all ages can enjoy, from Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney songs, to Dolly's original compositions, including the rousing "Not Enough," to Queen Latifah's powerful traditional gospel solo on 'Fix Me Jesus.'"

Catherine Paura also produced the film with her longtime partner Joseph Farrell, who sadly passed away in December. Paura says, "We fell in love with all the vivid multi-generational characters Todd had laced in so well with the musical component. Then both Dolly's and Queen Latifah's names came up and we thought, 'Oh, wouldn't we be lucky if'...and boy, were we lucky."

Alcon Entertainment principals Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove were also inspired by the film's themes, which fit perfectly into the slate of films for which Alcon has become known.

Kosove relates, "Occasionally in this business, you are fortunate to have 'pinch me' moments and 'Joyful Noise' is a pinch me moment. To make a movie with Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton is incredible and the two of them together are as fantastic as one would imagine. They're great musicians and terrific actresses. Their characters live in a town that has fallen on hard economic times as many towns across our country have, and the citizens are working together to achieve something marvelous under difficult circumstances."

With music being such a vital element of the project, Grammy Award-winning composer Mervyn Warren was enlisted to not only write original songs and score but also infuse the film with new takes on old classics.

Johnson asserts, "Merv is amazing; he's a wonderful talent, an original member of the a capella group Take 6, which I loved back in the day. He said to us from the beginning, 'This is not just a gospel music movie. It's a music movie with all different types of music that just happen to be sung by a choir.' He's done an incredible job with the arrangements. We have an assortment of songs from Chris Brown to Usher, transformed into gospel style, with faith-based lyrics. The music and personal stories going on in 'Joyful Noise' feel very relevant to today, as far as what people are going through and where they hope to find inspiration."

The Show Must Go On

"Joyful Noise" opens on a musical note, as the Pacashau Sacred Divinity Choir delivers their anthem, "Not Enough," in the local Joyful Noise gospel competition. As the choir sings, featured soloists, Vi Rose Hill, played by Queen Latifah, and G. G. Sparrow, played by Dolly Parton, work the audience of hundreds into a foot-tapping frenzy. But their high spirits belie the economic despair in their modest hometown of Pacashau, Georgia, where store fronts are boarded up and foreclosure signs are abundant.

But when choirmaster Bernard Sparrow, portrayed by Kris Kristofferson, rushes off stage during the final crescendo, happiness turns to heartbreak and soon the choir gathers to pay respects at their beloved leader's funeral.

Following the service, Pastor Dale, played by Courtney B. Vance, has the delicate task of informing Bernard's widow, G.G.--who just happens to control the church's purse strings--that the board has chosen Vi Rose to take over as choir leader. For four years, Pacashau has lost the national competition to its nemesis, Holy Vision Church of Detroit. Pastor Dale lays down the law: this year they have to win or there will be no more funds for the choir.

The real competition, however, is going to be between G.G. and Vi Rose, the latter of whom is trying to step into Bernard's shoes without G.G. tripping her at every turn. There's going to be a throw down before it's all sung and done.

Although Graff based the role of Vi Rose on his mother, he says, "It became clear when I was finished writing the script that the obvious choice to play the part was Queen Latifah."

Much earlier in his career, Graff had penned a hip-hop film called "Fly by Night," so he and Latifah also bonded over their similar music taste.

Latifah offers, "It was a breeze working with Todd. His music roots informed the subject matter, and since he's an actor, as well as a writer and director, he was invested in every element of the film."

"I know it doesn't look like it," Graff teases, "but I'm very grounded in that old-school downtown New York music world that I was part of at the time. Dana and I really hit it off and not only did she understand the character, she loved the fact that it was based on my mom."

Latifah notes, "Vi Rose is a bit uptight. Her husband is away in the military and she has her hands full. She's raising two challenging teens, she's a nurse, now choir director--one of those women who does too much and can try to control everything in order to just keep it all together. But life doesn't always work that way and sometimes you have to let go and let God. That's what Vi Rose has to learn; that's her journey."

Part of the journey involves facing a force of nature in the irrepressible G. G. Sparrow, "the yin to Vi Rose's yang," Paura describes.

It's obvious from the beginning of the film that G.G. and Vi Rose have a long history that has resulted in a lot of baggage, which keeps the friction going. "They are always at odds," Parton elaborates. "They just automatically rub each other the wrong way. So Dana and I purposely didn't hang out together. We'd make snide remarks, saying these awful things to each other around the set, just like Vi and G.G. would. But it was all in fun."

Latifah adds, "It isn't G.G.'s cup of tea to be told what to do or to relinquish being the center of attention. Dolly's fantastic and we had a good time getting creative with our characters clashing."

Parton was flattered Graff had her in mind when he wrote the script. "Todd told me he didn't know how he would have done this without me, but I figured they'd just have found some other big-haired gal to do it," she teases. "I think it was meant to be. A lot of scripts have come across my desk over the years, but 'Joyful Noise' is one of the most exciting things I've ever been a part of."

Graff admits, "I knew Dolly hadn't made a film in twenty years, and I had absolutely no reason to think that she was going to start doing movies again." Nevertheless, he and producer Michael Nathanson flew to Nashville to meet with Parton and plead their case.

"I heard her before I saw her," Graff recalls, "because she wears these gigantic spike heels and she clatters down the hallway, singing all the time. She walks in dressed like she's about to go on stage. I said, 'You really don't disappoint, do you?' And she said, 'If you ring my doorbell at eight o'clock in the morning, this is what I look like.' So I asked, 'What if I ring your doorbell at five minutes to eight?' She answered, 'I don't open the door,'" he laughs.

Parton has a lot in common with G.G., which stands for Gorgeous Grandma as emblazoned on G.G.'s license plate. She observes, "It really is the perfect part for me. She likes the hair and nails and clothes and she's had a few procedures done. She comes right out with whatever she thinks, and I'm like that. I was real comfortable with it."

Losing her husband and then finding out from Paster Dale that she's lost the choirmaster position to Vi Rose Hill, of all people, is a double blow.

Cast as the dour preacher, Courtney B. Vance says, "The fabric of family stretches and bends, but we have to do everything that we can to make sure it doesn't break. Pastor Dale's church family has fallen on hard times and is doing its very best to keep the strands intact. G.G. is really the financial backbone of the church, she contributes heavily to our bottom line, so the last thing they want to do is upset her. But trying to get G.G. to work together with Vi Rose is tricky, even for him."

But the family fabric is stretching beyond repair inside as well as outside the sanctuary. A choir mutiny is brewing, led by none other than Vi Rose's 16-year-old daughter, Olivia, who is trying to come out from under her mother's shadow, and thumb, and G.G.'s free-spirited "prodigal" grandson, Randy, whose motives for coming to church are more about winning over Olivia than winning the Joyful Noise competition.

Rising young music artist and actress Keke Palmer plays Olivia. Palmer remarks, "Pretty much anything that isn't straight out of the Bible, Vi Rose is against. Olivia's trying to sort out all these feelings, about her mom, herself, Randy, and the fact that her dad's not around. So she rebels."

"Struggling to become your own person is something most teens will relate to," notes Johnson.

Having collaborated previously with Latifah, Palmer was thrilled to be working with her again. "Dana is so cool and she and Dolly are fun to watch with all that sass and comedy when they go at each other."

"I've known Keke since she was little," Latifah acknowledges, "so to see her all grown up and doing her thing is pretty awesome. Her energy and her talent are just unbelievable."

Graff concurs. "Keke's adorable and funny and has a realness to her that is fabulous. You can't catch her acting; she's just totally in her character. And man can she sing."

Olivia's attempt to convince her mom contemporary music can honor God just as much as old gospel standards falls on skeptical ears. Vi Rose may not be impressed, but G.G.'s grandson, played by Jeremy Jordan sure is. He can't take his eyes off Olivia.

Kosove observes, "Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan are amazing young actors who are electric together."

So are their characters, much to the chagrin of both G.G. and Vi Rose. In order to get closer to Olivia, Randy has to get closer to his church roots and join the choir.

Jordan reflects, "Coming back to Pacashau and finding Olivia is great, but I think what surprises Randy the most is that he's been alone with his music. The second he puts on that choir robe, he finally realizes that this is a whole new musical pathway. It unlocks a new dimension for him."

Graff discovered Jordan by happy accident while attending a Broadway production of "Rock of Ages." He recalls, "I saw this kid who it turns out was the understudy. He blew me away, so much so that the next day I tracked down his agent, who told me it was the first time Jeremy had ever been on a stage in New York in his life...and I just happened to be in the audience. By the end of our first meeting I knew he was our guy."

Jordan was honored to have an opportunity to both act and sing with Latifah and Parton. "Queen Latifah is real to the core and Dolly is larger than life, truly loving and caring. She'll walk in the room and just light it up."

Parton declares, "Jeremy is a precious person, I love him to death. He's a joy to be around and a great singer, too. We got to do a duet, which was a real treat for me."

Vi Rose may not be happy about the budding romance between Randy and her daughter, but she warms up to him when he seems to be the only one able to connect with her 15-year-old son Walter, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome.

Dexter Darden plays the role of teenager Walter Hill. Graff recalls, "Dexter's a big guy and, at first glance, might not appear as vulnerable as Walter's supposed to be. But he was so accurate in terms of his clinical portrayal of Asperger's and being able to tap in emotionally to the character, he became our Walter."

Darden's intrinsic understanding of the subtleties of Walter's behavior, both physically and mentally, sprang from a childhood spent living with his cousin, who battled the same syndrome. "The heart of this story for me is Walter's struggle," Darden shares. "Asperger's is a mild form of autism, which means you're a little socially awkward, and can be very withdrawn. Understanding what my cousin went through, I tried to apply that and make Walter's journey as realistic as possible."

Walter's condition both strains and strengthens his bond with his mother and sister as they all deal in different ways with the painful absence of a military father and husband, played by Jesse L. Martin.

There's another kind of family represented in the movie: the choir of the Pacashau Sacred Divinity Church. It is the one remaining sliver of silver lining in this hard-hit town that people can still enjoy. It not only symbolizes that hope lies ahead, but reflects the close knit ties among the citizens, no matter if times are good or bad.

Latifah notes, "We have this great choir in the film that just brings so much energy and life to everything; it was exciting to be part of that."

The majority of the group was played by local Atlanta singers and dancers, who formed a disparate group of personalities. The actors who portray more prominent choir members include: Angela Grovey as the choir choreographer Earla, whose hook up with Mr. Hsu, played by Francis Jue, has unexpected results; DeQuina Moore as the talkative Devonne, who listens in on everyone and comments about everything; Andy Karl as Caleb, who, perhaps more than anyone, represents the town's current hardships; and Paul Woolfolk, as streetwise guitar player Manny, who also has eyes for Olivia.