The plot of a small town church choir overcoming adversity in an attempt to win a big competition isn’t exactly a fresh idea for a movie. But writer/director Todd Graff gives us a movie with well-developed characters dealing with sudden death, Asberger’s Syndrome, unemployment, first love, finding love, losing love, money and class, the unstable economy, single parenting, and raising a teenage daughter with humor , clarity and sentiment.
Dolly Parton’s three original songs provide the soundtrack for the most sentimental parts of the film. She’s a country superstar, and knows how to write lyrics that get right to the core of the issues. “From Here to the Moon and Back” provides the backdrop to a scene which as a music video would have lacked creativity, but within the context of the film tells viewers about the internal struggle she faces after the death of her husband in the first scene of the film. Like everyone else, Parton’s character (G.G. Sparrow) is dealing with some serious personal issues, but manages to stuff them deep inside, mostly, when it comes time to sing in the choir.
One may expect to find racism on the list of issues when dealing with a small town folk in Georgia. But the only way race is mentioned here is to show blacks, whites, and Asians singing together and loving one another in perfect harmony. Graff chooses instead to focus on what we all have in common, and how working together toward a goal can often bring out the best in us, but usually first, brings out the worst. Clever references to the man upstairs will keep the audience from feeling preached at. After one character loses his job he laments, “I feel like God is using me for target practice.” No non-sense choir director Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) quips, “He’s God. If he wanted to hit you, he wouldn’t need any practice.”
That line sums up the attitude of this film, which is coincidentally the mantra of a whole lot of Americans: Life may get you down, but that doesn’t excuse you from your day to day responsibilities of putting food on the table, doing your best in school or having your seat in a pew every Sunday.
Parton and Latifah spar a bit in this film, the scene is funny because at first it seems so out of character for two church ladies to sling rolls and insults at each other in public. Then it is funny because no one is doing anything to stop them, which is exactly how nice southern church people would behave, just ignore it, pretend it is not happening, and ask a different waitress for more rolls.
KeKe Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) is all grown up, and plays the blossoming younger Hill, Olivia. She quickly catches the eye of Sparrow’s grandson Randy, played by Jeremy Jordan. It’s the typical good girl/bad boy relationship. It’s fun to watch, especially with some serious musical talent thrown into the mix. The best part of the movie is the music, it just keeps on giving.
This film is being promoted as a battle between two potential choir directors because a good girl fight always sells. But it is really the story of how the individuals that make up a small town church choir manage to put aside some pretty serious daily challenges, never lose faith and just sing. There’s also one major plot point that doesn’t get resolved by the end, obviously it’s being saved for the sequel.
This film runs 117 minutes and is Rated PG-13.