One thing is certain - people are allergic to real or imagined religious themes in films, and this film will have its haters, sight unseen. The trailer shows people in gowns singing spirituals and they’re in a church!
And that’s a shame – the doubters will miss rousing, spine tingling musical numbers sung by Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton and the film’s young stars, excellent singers and entertainers Keke Palmer and Jeremy Jordan. Hip doesn’t have to mean narrow-minded, people.
The story’s set in a small Georgia town where the local church choir is building up its repertoire to compete in a national gospel competition in Los Angeles. It’s led by the briefly glimpsed Kris Kristofferson, who is married to the self-important musical arranger and chief donor G.G. (Parton). He is taken ill during a performance and taps Vi Rose (Latifah) to take over for him.
On his death, the local pastor (Courtney B. Vance) stirs an already simmering pot of contention between Vi Rose and G.G. by naming Vi Rose as choir leader. That doesn’t sit well with G.G. who threatens to withdraw her financial support and soon its full steam ahead on the mutual hating. Things devolve into catfights, hair pulling and the throwing of food.
Worse still, Vi Rose’ daughter Olivia (Palmer) and G.G.’s grandson, the aptly named Randy (Jordan) are starting to feel their own thing simmering just below the surface.
Rose’ son who suffers from Asperger’s is being mentored by Randy even though Randy’s in Vi Rose bad books re: Olivia. A choir member who hasn’t had any action for four years finally finds a fella and he dies in bed on her (“Tap me and die!”, she frets), G.G.’s mourning her late husband, Vi Rose is living as a single mother because her husband has asked for a second –go-round with the military, a bully makes his presence felt, the local hardware is about to shut down due to hard times, the choir can’t decide whether to go traditional or wild, so much to consider !!
117 minutes can’t comfortably give space and air to so many subplots.
However, by the third act, things take a turn for the way better! Obviously the choir will go to Los Angeles to compete, otherwise, there’s no story. No spoiler. The point is, the filmmakers found some of the best gospel talent around and put them in the movie as competitors and this is where they belong.
The power of all these wonderful voices and harmonies is magic and the film is suddenly foot-stompingly infectious. Young Ivan Kelley Jr. kills it in a devastatingly uplifting and energetic performance as does real life gospel star Kirk Franklin.
Anyway, it’s all about tolerance, family values, the changing south, surviving hard times, music, love and more love. As corny as it all sounds, its best to let the music do the talking and we’ll worry about the right wing religious meaning of it all some other time.
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35mm musical comedy
Written and directed by Todd Graff
Opens Jan 13
MPAA: PG 13