Thursday, November 10, 2022

A Musical Double Feature

Something to Sing About
and The Fighting Temptations (2003)

Watching these two films, you certainly get the idea that no one in Hollywood has any idea what a choir director does.

In 2000’s Something to Sing About, new Christian Tommy (Darius McCrary) joins a church choir and takes a seat surrounded by other choir members. Yes, they sing sitting down and no effort is made to divide the singers into soprano, alto, tenor, and bass sections. 

In 2003’s The Fighting Temptations, Darrin Hill (Cuba Gooding Jr.) is essentially a con man who takes over a church choir to get his dead aunt’s inheritance (long story and the film’s plot), but he seems to know nothing about tempo, pitch, or volume and never really gives his choir any real instruction. In spite of these flaws, someone must have known something about music; both films are essentially musicals.

Something to Sing About
is a production of World Wide Pictures, which means it’s a Billy Graham production. The opening credits assure us that there is a “special appearance” by Dr. Graham, but that might be an understatement. Whenever anyone turns on a TV, one of his crusades is being broadcast. (In addition, when a film is shown in church, it also is a World Wide Pictures production with a special appearance by Billy Graham, probably just so they wouldn’t have to pay anyone residuals.) This film is the story of an ex-con, Tommy, who was sent up for a crime he didn’t commit. After being released, he has a hard time finding work or even feeding himself. He meets a nice old lady, Memaw (Irma P. Hall), who invites Tommy to her house for pork chops and collard greens. She also gets him a job and invites him to church.

Tommy goes to church and is surprised to see liturgical dance as part of the worship service. The pastor, Rev. Washington (John Amos), cites the call to worship God in dance found in Psalm 149:3. He then goes on to urge all in the congregation to raise their hands if they will be inviting a guest to the church for an evening showing of an evangelistic film. 

Tommy raises his hand and invites his friend G Smooth (Rashaan Nall) who responds, “What is this? Invite Your Drug Dealer to Church Day?” Which might not be a bad idea. Smooth doesn’t seem uncomfortable when he attends, which might say something very good about the church.

I have a number of not-good things to say about the church in The Fighting Temptations (directed by Jonathan Lynn of My Cousin Vinny fame). The film opens at the Beulah Baptist Church in Monte Carlo, Georgia in 1980. The choir sings a lively number, and I found it interesting to see kids as part of the (largely adult) choir. A woman screams ecstatically and falls down; someone says, “It wouldn’t be a normal Sunday if Faye wasn’t slain in the Spirit.”

Two young kids, Darrin and Lilly (Nigel Washington and Chloe Bailey -- as the child version of characters later played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce) flirt innocently. Darrin says he likes Lilly, but Lilly says she’s going to marry Michael Jackson. Suddenly a ruckus breaks out. Paulina Pritchett (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) shouts at Darrin’s mother, Maryann (Faith Evans), accusing her of singing “the devil’s Music” -- R & B -- at a local honky-tonk. 

Paulina drags her brother, Rev. Lewis (Wendell Pierce), to cite the church bylaws that members of the choir must live an upright life. Paulina says Maryann must choose between singing in the choir and singing secular music. Maryann chooses to pursue a career in music, leaving town with her son.

When the grown Darrin returns to Monte Carlo after being fired from his advertising job in New York City. His aunt, who had spoken up for his mother against Paulina, has recently died, and in her will, she said that Darrin would receive her fortune if he directs the church choir and took them to the Gospel Explosion competition in Columbus, GA. The choir is quite small, so he advertises for members on the local radio station. The first ad states they are looking for “anyone who has any musical ability that is fully committed to God.” He intends to follow the bylaws about choir members' lifestyles. 

When the first ad doesn’t bring promising prospects, the copy is changed to “Applicants don’t need to be fully supportive of God’s work, but shouldn’t be against it.” When this doesn’t work, the ad is changed to “Atheists may now apply.”

Darrin even recruits choir members from the local prison, which is his best idea in the film. When Paulina raises the point that all choir members are supposed to be baptized, Rev. Lewis baptizes the inmates along with a reluctant Darrin.

As for whether the choir wins the big Gospel Music competition, I’m not going to spoil it for you, just in case you’re someone who has never seen another movie in your life.

So how do these churches rate on our Movie Churches scale? The church in Something to Sing About seems to be a loving church that proclaims Jesus, so we’re giving it our best rating of 4 Steeples. As for the church in The Fighting Temptations, it seems full of backbiting and gossip with a spaghetti-spined pastor who does whatever his sister tells him to do. It is saved from our lowest rating because the choir sounds pretty good when Beyonce and the O’Jays are added, so 2 Steeples. 

In this, the penultimate month of regular Movie Churches reviews, we are using double features of DVDs I’ve purchased but never got around to before

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