Thursday, March 24, 2016

Joyful Noise (2012)

Perhaps you're familiar with the Great Commission Jesus gave His disciples, found in Matthew 28: "Go into the world and win that Big Singing Competition!"

Oh, you might have thought the Great Commission was about making disciples, and that Jesus was more concerned with healing and feeding and, you know, saving people. But in the film Joyful Noise about a church choir starring Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah, we learn that God has other priorities.

The film opens with the Pacashau, Georgia, Sacred Divinity Church* choir singing, Not Enough Love, which might be more aptly named, Not Enough Content. The song is filled with such profundities as "Why can't we try harder? Why can't we see farther? Why can't we do better? Love's a good starter!" The theological content pretty much consists of wondering what God must be thinking, "He'd have to be sad." This song doesn'tt exactly have Charles Wesley caliber lyrics, but the teens in the choir think of such songs as "stodgy old church music."

I wasn't that impressed with that first song, but apparently it was killer. The choir director, played by Kris Kristofferson, gets tingly in the arm. Dolly Parton helps him off the stage, then we see everyone at the funeral.

Pastor Dale (played by Courtney B. Vance, who was also a pastor in The Preacher's Wife and Eye See You) conducts the funeral saying, "God judges a man by two things; faith and the contents of his heart." I would think faith would be one of the contents in a man's heart, and the Bible does talk some about God judging people by their actions. As a Christian pastor, it seems like he would talk about where a man puts his faith. Pastor Dale makes no mention of salvation coming from faith in the death of Christ on the cross, but again, theological content doesn't seem to be an emphasis in this church.

What seems to be really important in this church is how the choir places in regional choir competitions. Immediately after the funeral, the pastor invites the choir director's widow (Dolly) into his office. She tells him the service was perfect. He disagrees and says it would have been perfect if the choir has been part of it.  He then tells her he thinks the choir should go on to the Regional Semi-Finals as planned, and that's why the church council has appointed Vi Rose (Queen Latifah) -- not the widow -- as the choir director. That's some grief counseling.

So the choir prepares for the next big competition, knowing they'll be facing their big rivals, Taylor Sikes and the Holy Spirit Church of Detroit. Vi's daughter thinks they need to modernize their music, so she suggests singing Michael Jackson's Man in the Mirror (circa 1988). The choir must also decide on the big risk of whether to recruit musical talents like Dolly's thug grandson and the tuff kid from the local music shop. It doesn't seem to matter to the choir leadership if the people in the choir and band actually believe the things they're singing about.

Even the regulars in the choir don't seem to value the teachings of Scripture or holy living very highly. After on choir practice, a man and the woman in the choir start chatting about how long it's been since they slept with anyone, and then they start making out on the steps of the church. Then they go to her house for a one night stand.

The reason it's a one night stand is that the guy dies after sex. The circumstances don't seem to bother Pastor Dale, as he tells the woman, "You should cherish the brief time you and Mr. Su had together." (Referring to the man by his last name; really?) The woman tells the pastor she's concerned no man will want to go out with her because she's killed a man with sex. The pastor, with his typically great grief counseling agrees it will be a real problem and offers no hope.

So the choir goes to the Semi-Meta-Regional-Amateur-Divisional Sing-off and gets beaten by the church from Detroit. The pastor says that since they can't win, they should disband the choir. The money could be spent better in another way than on entry fees and travel expenses. After all, the town they live in is suffering great economic woes. Almost everyone in town is out of work and hurting. The church does run a soup kitchen, so good for them on that.

But the choir just won't quit. And when they find out that the Detroit choir was disqualified for using professionals, the choir, as runner up, can go on to the finals. But they're going to use those modern arrangements and young thugs, so Pastor Dale threatens to withdraw the church's sponsorship for the competition. Since church sponsorship is required to enter, Dolly suggests that her grandson could get an internet ordination so they could have a phony church sponsorship. (Cheating seems to be widespread in the world of church choir competition.)

Anyhoo, the choir goes off for the national choir competition, and they discover that their big rival a children's choir. But Vi seems to be pretty good with smashing the dreams of small children, 'cause though Jesus loved kids, they're pretty resilient.

So they're in the big competition. They use secular songs like Sign, Sealed, Delivered, strip off their choir robes, and most importantly, sexualize their appearance and dance moves. As Vi says, it's all about "giving glory to God." They even seem to have some kind of miracle technology that allows their voices to be amplified without visible mikes as they dance around the whole auditorium.

It's all worth it, because they win the national competition, which is an inspiration to their financially devastated small town. They are greeted as conquering heroes. I would think the people of this small town would be better off moving someplace where they could get jobs, but really, Choir Competition Uber Alles.

Pacashau Sacred Divinity Church gets One Steeple for that Soup Kitchen, but that's it.

*Although we happen to be in Georgia this week on our attempt to visit a church and a bar in every state, we couldn't visit this church due to its blessedly fictional status.

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