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Hollywood praises God with 'Joyful Noise'

With Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah leading a talented vocal cast (including the awe-inspiring pipes of Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan) in a film about Gospel show choirs, it’s no surprise that “Joyful Noise” is anything but “noise.”

Several of the musical numbers in the film give rise to goose bumps, with soulful solos, joyful jams and heavenly harmonies. Spanning several musical styles and performed with gusto, the music in “Joyful Noise” is uplifting, convicting and well worth the price of admission, no matter your musical taste.

And for Christian audiences, it’s encouraging to hear at the movies music that frequently gives praise to God and to watch characters that honestly wrestle with applying the love of God to their lives.

“You have to think of God as a parent,” says a mother to her downtrodden son in the film. “Just like I’m your mother, God is our father; and we have to have faith he loves us, no matter what.”

And while most of the film tiptoes around any specific reference to which “god” is so loving and worthy of praise, there is a poignant scene in which the same mother recognizes she’s not up to the challenges of life and cries out in powerful song, “Fix me, Jesus, fix me.”

But there is a difference that should be noted among discerning audiences between a film that takes place in church and a film that affirms the Christian faith, between frequently referencing God and actually allowing him on the set.

Jesus asserted in John 3:23 that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth;” and while “Joyful Noise” is long on spirit, I did have to ask, “What about the truth?”

The storyline follows a small-town Gospel show choir that suffers first the death of its leader and then a power struggle between the leader’s wealthy widow (played by Parton) and it’s assistant director (played by Latifah).

Complicating matters, the widow’s wayward grandson (played by Jordan) returns amid the thick of the fray, only to fall head-over-heels for the assistant director’s daughter (played by Palmer).

A few wrinkles to the story give this Romeo-and-Juliet tale some honest heart, and while fairly average and predictable in plot, the actors – and thus the audience – seem to have a good time seeing the story play out.

And the film does have positive themes about the love and kindness of God even amid trials and suffering, messages that I could envision connecting with a hurting world.

But “Joyful Noise” portrays God as only about love, while ignoring that He is also holy.

Many of the characters, though they sing of God, seem oblivious to the call on their lives to follow Him. Bitterness, envy, unforgiveness, manipulation, fornication – sin seems to be just a laughing matter in “Joyful Noise,” and those that question its acceptance are too often portrayed as overly strict or even archaic.

“Do you think God is punishing me because we weren’t married?” one character asks after an adulterous tryst goes astray.

“If that’s how He operated,” the answer comes, “most men would be dead by their senior year in college.”

“Sometimes a small sin is justified in pursuit of a higher cause,” claims another character.

“Do you want to be a church girl all your life?” asks yet another. “There’s so much more to you.”

These notions are not portrayed as questionable theology, but as commendable by the plot.

In fact, the assistant director is protective of her daughter, and more traditional in her values, yet she’s portrayed as overprotective, resistant to “change” and judgmental.

The net effect, I fear, is a message that says, “God is all about love and forgiveness, so all that ‘holiness’ and ‘morality’ stuff just doesn’t apply anymore.”

It’s just too easy to walk away from the movie with very secular humanist notions that people just need to be kinder, more accepting and more tolerant – that since we all “love” each other, we don’t need those old rules about right and wrong anymore.

I think a discerning Christian audience can still enjoy this film and find it inspiring and entertaining. The music is riveting, the characters delightful and the script often clever and funny.

But I do question if “Joyful Noise,” though it sings Gospel, doesn’t do a disservice in undermining the gospel.

Content advisory: