Superficially akin to other singing and dancing competition films out there already, including Bring It On, Camp Rock, and Pitch Perfect, Praise This sets out to honor gospel music, featuring a praise team competition among churches of the South. It could’ve been a genuinely innovative and bar-raising showcase of Black gospel culture, but aside from a few laudable moments, it ends up being a fairly unfounded film that falls into formulaic tendencies.
Praise This follows Sam (Chloe Bailey), a young musical artist who gets transplanted by her father from Los Angeles to Atlanta because of her rebellious behavior. She’s sent to live with her Uncle Larry (Kendrick Cross) and Aunt Liz (Janora McDuffie), and soon meets their daughter, Jess (Anjelika Washington). The upbeat church girl in Jess straightaway introduces Sam to the praise team she’s a part of at her church, and with the options limited for Sam to develop her music career, she eventually joins in.
At the same time, while getting her cousin Jess to crash some house parties, Sam also gets noticed by Atlanta rap star played by real life rapper-singer Quavo. The story seems to attempt to be one of self-discovery and finding faith, as we see Sam begin to open up and change on her journey with the praise team, which includes riff offs, legit singing competitions, and more.
The film starts out pretty strong: it opens with a competition scene, featuring a few neat performances by various praise teams, before heading into Sam’s story, where the likes of Jess and her positivity and quirkiness clashing with Sam’s rebellious attitude make for some good comedic moments.
Anjelika Washington’s infectious performance as Jess helps make the film feel alive and genuine, especially as she really brings a new level to the stereotypical church girl character, making it feel fun-loving and hearty with a touch of naivety, instead of straight-up cringey or farcical. Washington levels up even more by getting to share her vocal and drumming abilities in the film, really making the case for giving the best performance all-around of the film. Chloe Bailey and the rest of the cast as a whole are fairly charismatic as well, but the film does not exhibit and utilize their talents as well as it could.
The filmmakers fail most of the cast because by about a third of the way through, the narrative succumbs quickly to the underdog formula. The performances and competition scenes may remain high points throughout, but the rest of the story trods an uneven path that doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to communicate to the audience, especially in terms of takeaways, and therefore just heads onto the familiar and predictable underdog of the competition story. It becomes hard not to compare it to films like Pitch Perfect, with its echoing riff offs and other similar beats.
Praise This is not a terrible film — it just seems to have a tough time finding itself. It does have elements of grief and loss of faith that could’ve made it more substantial beyond the singing sequences, but it misses the mark. Instead, it delves out flimsy storylines and shallow character backstories, and only really communicates a basic message of redemption. All in all, its performances may be fine, and its elements of faith and community may find audiences—and without turning some off either, as it’s more of a faith-inspired story, than a faith-based preachy one, but its lack of technical prowess and innovation will find keener film watchers wishing for a more enriching story.
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Praise This may have some laudable performances and funny moments here and there, but its flimsy and formulaic tendencies make it forgettable.
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