By Brenda Black
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100)
Obviously, Hollywood's version of Christianity is again skewed and condemning. What could have been a wonderful story of transformation in a teen boy's life was reduced to stupidity and crude comedy. Oh, there were a few redeeming moments in the newly released movie, Joyful Noise, starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Pardon. But they were far between and few.
Let me break it down for you. The reviewers on cnn.com call it “a squeaky clean pop-gospel fairy tale” and metacritic touts it as a “funny and inspirational story of music, hope, love and renewal.” I was more offended than inspired. I heard more cursing than gospel in this movie and was terribly disappointed by the hollow performances of nearly every actor.
Crosswalk.com professional movie critics agree. They say “Joyful Noise is a missed opportunity. Despite a decent performance from Queen Latifah—the most sympathetic character in the story, and the one who seems most earnest about her faith—the movie is too often flat, even offensive, when it should have been soaring and uplifting.” (http://www.crosswalk.com/culture/movies/sound-the-gong-for-i-joyful-noise-i.html?p=2 )
I don't normally write reviews, but there are some disturbing assumptions crammed down the audience's collective throat that I'd like to address. Jjust in case you think this movie hilarious, it is never funny to use the Lord's name in vain, to have sex outside of marriage, to manipulate, cat fight, gossip, dishonor, lie, cheat, disrespect or buy your power in the church. Oh, yes, these are the qualities personified in the “spirit-filled” Divinity Church Choir of fictitious Pacashau, GA. And these attributes are assumed normal and representative of all believers. The pastor is portrayed as weak and legalistic. The women are petty and power hungry. There were weird sexual scenarios in odd places and strange side stories that seemed to be just thrown in for shock value.
Only a couple of scenes actually evoked genuine emotion and delivered a morsel of truth. Latifah pulled them both off with believable sentiment when esteeming her autistic son and squaring shoulders with a daughter testing the boundaries. In those brief moments, she taught about a God who makes no mistakes and parents who do their best to live out faith. She also is the one who sings a soulful song of prayer with words “Jesus, fix me,” while the rest of the cast justifies their every sinful move.
While most of the songs are pop-turned-church music and easily get you groovin' in the theater seat, the would-be, take-away message and the beauty of their performance is lost in the shallowness of those singing. It's all twisted - a winning choir singing that it's all about Jesus, features a screaming lead singer who jerks around on the platform like a chicken with worms. That “praise team” is disqualified for hiring professional entertainers. Another contender is comprised of a group of uniformed children and their snappy little lead singer screams out lyrics about humility while he flaunts himself all over the stage like Justin Bieber. Instead of the competition being about praising God, it is about WINNING at all costs!
Just when I thought the choir director might rally her troops into an awe-inspiring moment by turning their hearts toward the real reason for singing – Jesus -- she keeps the movie consistently and ashamedly humanistic and just challenges her choir to kick the butt of the competition because “We deserve this!” Pathetic!
Look, I am quite aware the church is full of sinners. That's why I'm there. I need a Savior. But this movie's baseless assault on Christianity blatantly smacks of another attempt to make Christians look stupid and worldly. If we get nothing else out of it, I pray it compels us to take a hard look at our own behavior. I pray that we remember that it is Christ whose name we bear as we sing or stomp or kick and scream our way in this world. We live for His glory, not our own. Sing for Him and to His beat and don't bother with this movie.