Writer/director Todd Graff's Joyful Noise can be easily defined with a little pop-culture math: Glee - anything having to do with homosexuality + Tyler Perry = Joyful Noise.
The movie stars Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill, a no-nonsense single mom who is selected to become the choir leader for her small Georgia town's church congregation after the previous leader (Kris Kristofferson) dies of a heart attack while the ensemble perform in the early stages of an annual national gospel contest. This decision doesn't sit well with G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton), the former choir leader's wife and the church's biggest benefactor. The two women butt heads, with Vi Rose's traditional approach meeting constant resistance from Sparrow's more progressive musical direction. And, as if the two women didn't have enough to feud over already, it turns out Vi Rose's good-girl teenage daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) and G.G.'s troublesome grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) are starting to fall for each other.
As their tiny Georgia town hits hard economic times, members of the community come together in the hope that their local church can make it to L.A. to compete in the finals of the Joyful Noise gospel-choir contest, which they just might accomplish if all the various rivalries and personal problems don't break the group apart first.
With his first film, the Glee precursor Camp, and his sophomore feature, the underrated teen rock movie Bandslam, Graff proved more than able to tell stories about teens who use music as a way to define themselves. Although he tries the formula again with Joyful Noise, it doesn't translate because his main characters are so much older. There's a sappiness in Joyful Noise that quickly grows cloying, before it mutates into outright hokey ridiculousness around the time the movie tries to address serious issues.
Yes, Joyful Noise demands that the characters go through major hardships, like seeing your store go out of business, or raising a son with Asperger's, or dealing with a father who took off, or finding the Asian guy you brought home for a one-night stand died while sleeping in your bed (that last one is actually played for laughs). These serious issues aren't in the movie because Graff has something to say about them, but because they each serve a function in the script. Randy befriends Vi Rose's son so that we know he's really a good dude, and the town's economy seems to crumble so that the choir can serve as something they can all believe in again. The movie is shamelessly manipulative.
All of this might be forgivable if the music was exemplary. Sadly, while it's not bad, the popularity of Glee has made it commonplace to hear pop tunes arranged like this. So a gospel version of Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed" -- the song Randy uses to audition for the choir -- is quite fine, but there's nothing particularly magical or memorable about it. That's true of pretty much every number across the board.
In the end, Joyful Noise tries far too hard to please everyone. At nearly a full two-hour running time, it's overstuffed with storylines, incidents, insults, and speeches, all of which feel like a desperate attempt to keep the audience's attention. All of this business detracts from the film's core. It's a whole lot of noise, with very little joy.