Director: Francois Girard
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Kevin McHale, Josh Lucas
Synopsis: A demanding choir master at an elite music academy pushes a gifted but rebellious student to fulfill his true potential.
Given that Boychoir was Francois Girard’s first motion picture in seven years, it’s something of a surprise to discover just how ordinary it is, and one has to wonder how he managed to assemble such a strong cast for such a cookie-cutter movie. Honestly, the plot is so generic that young Stet (Garrett Wareing), the troubled hero of the piece, could be a basketball player, chess prodigy or maths genius with only a few minor adjustments to the screenplay.
11-year-old Stet is a scruffy kid with the pure voice of an angel which, in the opinion of his teacher (Debra Winger – Urban Cowboy), is too good to be confined within the walls of an ordinary school. Quite how she discovered his voice is never explained but then Boychoir rarely strays long enough from its rigid schedule to learn much about its characters. Stet’s a troubled kid, with an alcoholic mother whose unexpected death briefly re-unites him with a father he barely knows. He’s something of a guilty secret, you see, the product of an illicit youthful fling which wealthy family man Gerard (Josh Lucas – American Psycho, J. Edgar) would prefer to keep secret. So, although Stet fled from the audition his teacher set up with Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman – Marathon Man), the Master of a boys choir so prestigious that it runs its own boarding school, Gerard’s cheque book manages to secure the boy a place – over, of course, the indignant choir master’s objections.
Naturally, acceptance at the school merely means that Stet swaps all his old problems for a set of new which sees him clashing with other students and staff. Eventually, though, even Carvelle is forced to accept there’s something special about Stet, and the two form an unlikely bond.
The only thing that lifts Boychoir above the ordinary is the remarkable choral music performed by a genuine boys’ choir; just one brief excerpt of their voices in flight generates more genuine feeling than any amount of emotional manipulation screenwriter Ben Ripley throws at the screen. The accomplished cast, which includes Kathy Bates and Eddie Izzard, tries hard to hold their ground in the headlong rush of plot developments, but are given little opportunity to do more than react to what has taken place in the previous scene. More time exploring the parallels between Carvelle’s past and Stet’s experiences would have at least provided some resonance, but their relationship is transformed from mostly adversarial to mutually respectful in the course of one mildly revelatory scene and, in fact, there’s not one of Boychoir’s mini-crises that isn’t resolved within a matter of three or four scenes at most. But then a movie which forgets to show a kid grieving for his dead mother clearly isn’t too concerned about allowing depth of character to get in the way of the kind of rattling good yarn that would have suited Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney down to the ground.
(Reviewed 14th October 2015)