I took my wife to see Joyful Noise last night, the reportedly "Christian" movie with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah. Given how easily fads sweep through American Christianity with little discernment, I thought I would give you a review of the movie. I'm not going to try and decide for you whether or not to see it, or promote it as a "Christian" movie. I'll just give you my observations, positive and negative and leave you to consider it.
FYI, I'm not trying to review like a movie critic. I'm not addressing whether the story, acting or production was good. I'm commenting on it for the sake of Christians being able to discern the CHRISTIAN merits of the movie since it's 1) set in a church/Christianity environment and 2) it's already being discussed as a "Christian movie" by Christians.
The movie is about a church choir competition. The plot involves a mother with two kids, a father who left them, the mom's struggle to raise the kids, and the kids struggle with growing up and the ever popular Hollywood premise of "finding out who they really are" (which is most often code language for "don't be like your parents"... this movie is no exception but with a twist that makes it somewhat tolerable).
Some Joyful Noise About Joyful Noise
Here are my positive observations about the movie:
- It's cleaner and more "wholesome" than 99% of what Hollywood and TV produces. That's not a huge endorsement given current entertainment standards but it is true relatively speaking.
- The movie contains no real violence, overtly vulgar
language (again, compared to what Hollywood typically produces, more on the
language below because there is cursing in the movie), or graphic sex, immodesty or nudity (a
negative about that below too)
- For most of the movie it appears the typical Hollywood
message that "conservative (and especially) Christian parents are
intolerant, out of touch, close minded and need to be enlightened by the liberal,
worldly and in particular the youthful characters" is going to be played
out to the end... but in a refreshing twist, the mother confidently and accurately
puts the smart-mouthed rebellious daughter in her place and the movie doesn't
use that as "proof" the mom is a jerk. Wow! What a concept!
The mom gets to say what every parents wants to say to their ungrateful, spoiled, self-pitying teen and it leaves the crowd applauding. Normally, Hollywood only puts in that kind of scene when it makes the parent look even more controlling and close-minded. Not this time. The mom looks like the wise, strong, parent deserving of respect. Amazing that a movie actually (FINALLY) portrays a Christian, authoritative parent in that kind of positive light. (Caveat: but even still, the subtle final message is still that the mom loosened up and let her 16 year old daughter "grow up" even though she was allowed to put her foot down against the blatant rebelliousness and self pity.)
- The music is clean and entertaining though hardly "Christian" in any substantive way. It's pop music sang in the best tradition of black gospel.
- The story ends up with family reconciliation, portrays faithfulness to marriage vows, and implies the strength of traditional family.
- The movie shows whites, blacks and Asians all getting along and living together just fine in a small, southern town. That drives liberals CRAZY who sincerely believe that all southern states are really just closeted KKK hotbeds. While there is no doubt racism is alive and well (from ALL COLORS) in American MOSTLY IN BIG CITIES NOT RURAL TOWNS, it has been my experience in 40 years of small southern towns that the '60's Lyndon Johnson idea of racism is rarely seen today. Whites and blacks and browns and reds and yellows in conservative small town America live and work and worship and play together without a whole lot of thought of "race". You'll never convince Washington or Hollywood of that though because it would erode the power of people who live and prosper by fanning the flames of racism.
Some Not So Joyful Noise
If I were to stop at merely comparing this to the normal trash that is shown on flat screens today, I would give this film a double thumbs up and tell you to take the family to see it. However, it's not quite that simple from a Christian standpoint. Compared to Godly standards, there are several concerns, and given the impression it leaves about Christianity in general, I'm not all that joyful about it. My observations:
- Casual fornication (no sex scene but the deed is obvious)
between two choir members is played off mostly as a joke and it's never
seriously implied (or stated) that fornication is a sin to be repented of. Even the Pastor makes a joke about it at a
funeral (the man died from a heart attack while having sex). It's also implied several times that if you haven't had sex for several years, you can't help but want to jump in bed with someone.
- Cursing: there are a couple of scenes when unbelievers or
the rebellious say a "mild" curse word and that could have been
livable as demonstrating "real
life". But the movie goes much further with a couple of dozen or more curse words
used casually and without concern even from the Christian characters in the movie.
There is one scene where the mom comes down on the daughter about cursing, the mom spouting some curse words then saying "see I can cuss too. It's easy and it proves your stupid" (I'm paraphrasing). That kind of message I can live with. The gratuitous cursing for a laugh or simply because no one, even the Christians, think it is any big deal is not something I can pass over as no big deal. The movie in total leaves you with the impression that "mild" cursing is not a concern. I guess that's a good selling point in light of some of today's Christian writers like Doug Giles (whose thoughts I agree with but I'm concerned about his growing use of crass verbiage and cursing).
- The typical Hollywood message (particularly to the youth) that no one who is a
serious student and Christian can possibly be living life to the fullest is
present and never completely debunked. The
rebellious daughter, the wayward grandson and the worldly grandmother are
sympathetically portrayed as compassionate, thoughtful, earthy, feeling and
really embracing life. The uptight mother and pastor are close minded,
controlling and stifled. A couple of other Christians are buffoonish rednecks and simpletons. Yawn....
typical Hollywood. It's not NEARLY as
blatant in this movie as most but the message is clear. At the end of the
movie the mom's strictness is shown to be somewhat positive AFTER she softens towards her daughter and the rebel boyfriend. Three steps forward, one step
- In one scene, the black gospel music presentation is almost
clownish (specifically their "competition" from a Detroit black
church)... on a positive note, the primary choir the story revolves around is entertaining and dignified even though the music is not Christian, it's pop music.
- Other than some casual contemporary Christian stanzas, no serious Christian music (doctrinally speaking) is used in the movie; the choir sings pop music from the likes of Michael Jackson. The church service is where the performances are rehearsed. It adds to the overall subtle message (in my opinion) that Christianity is more social than anything, and not something to be taken very seriously. Unbelievers are invited to be in the choir because of their music talent and the Sunday church gathering is trivialized. The rebellious unbelievers come to accept the Christians because they like the music but it's never portrayed or implied that they accepted the Christian Gospel.
- The Christians in the movie are wholesome for the most part but apologetically worldly and no serious Christianity or Gospel message is portrayed in any substantial way. Even though the entire movie is about Christianity, "Jesus" and supposedly faith, not one single serious message about Christ, the Bible, prayer or any Christian doctrine is expressed; not even a hint about the Gospel.
- The Pastor declares the church can only remain "open" because of rich a member and her support (any real Pastor would recoil at referring to the Church as a business that depends on rich donors). In the end, the Pastor sends that same member packing because she tries to demand his obedience for her support. But... she then pulls another (weird, not very creative) trick out of her bag and ends up with the Pastor in her pocket again at the end of the movie. Of course, typically, the uptight Pastor eventually comes around and loosens up like everyone else.
Overall, the movie is fairly enjoyable and certainly "wholesome" when measured by Hollywood standards. Christianity is not openly attacked or mocked (as is typical on TV or movies today almost without exception) but the way morality, holiness and "church" is trivialized throughout the show, it leaves Christians with concerns. What's worse? Outright mockery of Christianity, or the subtle trivializing of it?
(Something to think about: the movie "Soul Surfer" portrays a faithful Christian family without mockery but the whole movie is filled with teenage girls in bikinis [the real life girls looked more like prepubescent children, but the movie girls were post-puberty]; is that better or worse than a movie like "Joyful Noise" that's not start-to-end-teen-girls-in-bikini's but trivializes morality, faith and Christianity for the most part? Just something to think about...)
The usual message that authoritative parents and/or serious Christians are uptight and close-minded is loud and proud for most of the movie... then knocked down momentarily towards the end... then left as implied truth when the movie ends. The flipside is also clear: the worldly, the youthful, and the rebellious are the enlightened, happy and compassionate people who really know how to enjoy life. The movie knocks down (appropriately) the worst of the rebellious behavior from the teens but still leaves the final underlying message that they were mostly right about everything, they just needed to be a little more respectful about it.
About the best I can say is this: it's downright clean and wholesome compared to most movies. However, if you do choose to see it, you should not be undiscerning about it and promote it without concern. I would also be careful labeling it a "Christian movie" when it's more accurately "a movie whose characters go to church and sing in a choir". Maybe that's enough to call it "Christian" but it's nowhere close to a movie that clearly communicates the Christian message (no one says that was the purpose; but if they aren't calling it a "Christian" movie, should Christians?).
- A good clean family movie compared by Hollywood standards? Yes.
- A "Christian" movie that portrays morality, holiness and faith seriously and accurately? No.
- A movie devoid of liberal Hollywood messages about enlightened youth and close minded authoritarians? No.
I just want Christians to be discerning. We are so used to the garbage and filth in most movies or books, that we jump on any "Christian" scrap media throws us with very little scrutiny or discernment. I would not take my children under 12 to see it unless I could edit out the cursing and the fornication jokes. I would only see it with my teens or older if I was ready to explain to them where the movie falls short of true Christian messaging.
Contemplation: isn't it amazing that we are at a point in Christianity where we consider a movie with a dozen or more curse words, unrepentant fornication, church favoritism, a manipulated Pastor and a trivialized Christian experience something we would even CONSIDER seeing because it's a wholesome family movie compared to the rest of Hollywood trash?