From the left, Dolly Parton stars as G.G. Sparrow and...

From the left, Dolly Parton stars as G.G. Sparrow and Queen Latifah as Vi Rose Hill in Alcon Entertainment's movie "Joyful Noise," a Warner Bros. Pictures release and in theaters Jan. 13, 2012. Credit: Van Redin Photo/

Looked at a certain way, the two stars of the new musical comedy "Joyful Noise" arrived at the movie from utterly different directions. One was raised "dirt poor" in Tennessee, the other in the urban Northeast. One grew up to be a regular at the Grand Ol' Opry, the other played the Apollo Theater. One flourished in country music, the other made her name in hard-core hip-hop, sharing the stage with the likes of Public Enemy.

On the other hand, they both like bling. They're both show-biz institutions. They both have so many spinoff enterprises, they could be amusement parks (and, in one case, is). They both made it in stringently male-dominated genres, to the point that audiences have probably forgotten what it was that made them famous in the first place. And they still love music.

"I can't imagine a world without it," says Queen Latifah.

"It's what I'm all about," says Dolly Parton.

Music runs through "Joyful Noise" like the Cumberland runs through Nashville and carries along with it the inspirational story line of director Todd Graff's third tuneful feature (following critical faves "Camp" and "Bandslam").

Although economic hard times have hit tiny Pacashau, Ga., folks are praying that the local Divinity Church Choir will win the national Joyful Noise Competition, despite rancor within the ranks: Newly appointed director Vi Rose Hill (Latifah) is old school, while the spunky G.G. Sparrow (Parton) wants to stir things up. Stirring other things up is G.G.'s rebellious but musical grandson, Randy (Jeremy Jordan), who has an eye for Vi Rose's beautiful daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer). The heat between Randy and Olivia is causing even more of a chill between Vi and G.G. Can this competition be saved?

Take a wild guess.

Together at last

No, nothing is particularly startling about the plotline to "Joyful Noise," but what's a bit surprising is how long it's taken for Latifah and Parton to intersect. Both are ubiquitous cultural entities -- Latifah has had a talk show, done voice-overs, appeared in such features as "Just Wright" and "Valentine's Day," and is a spokesmodel for Cover Girl cosmetics. Parton hasn't done a big-screen film in some time (see sidebar), but between her regular appearances on "Hannah Montana," writing music for the Broadway adaptation of "Nine to Five," her innumerable TV cameos and her entrepreneurial enterprises -- such as Dollywood, Dollywood Splash Mountain and the Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction (locations in Branson, Mo., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn.) -- she's a known quantity to multiple generations.

"People always said, 'You should do something with Queen Latifah,' " Parton said in New York. "Really, they did! They'd say, 'You've got the same kind of thing, you're friendly, you're out there.' "

"She's the genuine article," Latifah said of Parton. "And I think that's what people get about both of us. People feel they can come up and hug us. I don't know what that is, that 'relatable' thing, but it's just us."

"And hopefully it will work on screen," said Parton.

"And in the sequel," quipped Latifah.

Both voiced enthusiasm for their movie's religious sensibility, and its feel-good take on community and its benefits. "People need that these days, with all that's going on," Parton said. One thing that's been left out of the movie is an overtly racial theme, but director Graff said that shouldn't surprise anyone. Race, he said, "is too important an issue to pay lip service to. It's something you make a movie about, and this movie wasn't about that."

The economy is a big part of the story, he said, "but the way the economy entered into it was about my wanting to find ways to illustrate the themes of the movie, which are 'If you get together as a community, you can change stuff' and 'Faith is great but if you're just going to sit around waiting for God to do stuff, it ain't gonna happen.' "

 

Big heart, big hope, big hair

Neither Parton nor Latifah has ever sat around waiting for stuff to happen -- although, for Parton at least, "Joyful Noise" did just happen.

"When I got the script, I said, 'Wow, this is me!' I couldn't imagine anyone else doing that. I said, 'I just have to do this, this is the movie I've been waiting for.' She's not Dolly Parton, but her personality is so much like mine she could be me -- if I had had that home life, and had stayed home, and not become a star. Like I've said, she has a big heart, big hope and big hair."

Asked about her return to the big screen, Parton was fairly blunt. "Well, I just hadn't had anything good," she said. "I don't consider myself a great actress."

Latifah scoffed. "Yes, you are."

"Well, when I can be myself."

"You're the best you you've ever been," Latifah said with a laugh.

For her part, Latifah -- who was Oscar-nominated for "Chicago" and has segued into various areas of pop music since her rap days -- was asked whether she ever contemplates a return to hip-hop.

"Whenever anybody asks me when I'm going to put another record out, I do," said the former Dana Elaine Owens of Newark and the Bronx. "I'm always gonna be a rap-head, a hip-hop head, and I'll write my rhymes at home. But I'm not sure where I would go. But I would never count it out, though, because I think hip-hop is like rock and roll -- the more time that goes by, the more older MCs you're going to see. If Run-DMC were to go on tour, I'm going to that. If Heavy D were still around, I would be at his shows. The music's going to grow older, like rock and roll did.

"Maybe there'll be room for me," she said with a smile, "when I'm like 60."

Hello, Dolly: Her best screen roles

BY JOHN ANDERSON, Special to Newsday

From the sweet-voiced songbird who once played second fiddle to country icon Porter Waggoner to the quasi-corporation she is today, Dolly Parton has parlayed her Nashville naif image for all it's worth. ("I know I'm not dumb," she once said, "and I know I'm not blond.") Although one success has seemed to lead to another, Parton has run aground when it's come to her on-screen initiatives -- a couple of proposed series have been turned into one-off TV movies, and she hasn't made a big-screen appearance since the unlamented "Frank McKlusky, C.I." (2002). But she certainly has a cinematic presence, and the following show it to best advantage.

NINE TO FIVE (1980) -- This proto-feminist comedy would find a place in film history, Roger Ebert opined, "primarily because it contains the movie debut of Dolly Parton. She is, on the basis of this one film, a natural-born movie star, a performer who holds our attention so easily that it's hard to believe it's her first film." Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda co-starred in the story of oppressed office workers overthrowing their boss (Dabney Coleman).

THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (1982) -- Colin Higgins, who also directed "Nine to Five," adapted this Broadway production about a brothel owner (Parton) and a sheriff (Burt Reynolds) protecting her biz from religious zealots.

RHINESTONE (1984) -- The late, great Bob Clark ("A Christmas Story") directed this Parton-Sylvester Stallone vehicle about a country singer turning a cabdriver into a crooner. Guess who played whom?

STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) -- Julia Roberts got a lot more mileage out of this Southern-fried soaper in which a whole bunch of women (Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah) talk, fight, feud and die.

STRAIGHT TALK (1992) -- "Holy moley!" exclaims James Woods, during the very chaste sex scene that interrupts the hilarity of this wacky comedy, which starred Parton as a small-town babe who becomes a big-city radio host.

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