Boasting a stellar cast of Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Izzard and Kathy Bates, François Girard’s The Choir belts out one disappointing cliché after another.
Thank You For The Musicby Mark Wilshin
From François Girard, the director of Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and Silk and writer Ben Ripley, who previously penned Duncan Jones’ commuter fantasy Source Code, it’s impossible not to be disappointed by The Choir. There’s even a stellar cast to boot – with Dustin Hoffman, Debra Winger, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard who have enough awards between them to sink a small touring company – but still The Choir can’t help but line up the clichés. There’s the troubled boy struggling to straighten up and unfurl his musical genius, the absent father who comes round, the gruff schoolmaster who warms in the end, and the star pupil who turns bully when threatened with second place. And at times The Choir feels like a thousand other plucky underdog films, who’ve been there and sadly done it better. But if there’s one small salvation, it’s the film’s choral performances, which encompass everything from Britten, Bach, Fauré, Handel and Mendelssohn to Thomas Tallis and Karl Jenkins. And it’s a welcome spurt of energy that sees Boychoir occasionally soar.
Stet (Garrett Wareing) is a musical genius, but lost amidst a class of no-hopers and consigned after-school to caring for his alcoholic mother, he’s trouble. And yet keen to see Stet fulfil his potential Ms Steel (Debra Winger) invites the American Boychoir to perform and give the boy an audition. Unable to take the heat from choirmaster Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) and his successor Drake (Eddie Izzard), Stet runs off. But when his mother is killed in a car accident, and his unknown father (Josh Lucas) tries to put him into foster care, the American Boychoir School seems to be Stet’s one and only hope.
They’ve been around the block these young musicians, what with Stephen Herek’s Mr Holland’s Opus and Christophe Barratier’s Les Choristes, let alone the countless classroom dramas of ordinary wayward pupils and their dour but quietly formative teachers. So it’s a tragedy that François Girard sticks so closely to the well-worn narrative and tired clichés of this universal experience. The script is even at odds with itself, as Stet’s teachers can’t decide between disciplining the boy and requisitioning the boychoir caravan for the benefit of just one pupil, or as the headmistress (Kathy Bates) redefines her position, transitioning from kicking Stet out of school to having him sing at the New York concert in barely the blink of an eye.
Plot holes aside, there are however some moments of greatness – and not just among the able performances from Boychoir‘s underused cast. Such as the sudden, unexpected cut between Stet on his way home from school and his mother’s upturned vehicle, one wheel still spinning. Or the atmospheric Christmas break that Stet spends hiding in school, practising for the touring choir tryouts and watching Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. Besides Garrett Wareing, who does a decent enough job in a bipolar role, the child performances are grating, turning The Choir into a brattish, stage-school production of Lord Of The Flies. Only without the teeth or guts.
Of course, there’s the heavenly music that elevates Boychoir into something approaching an enjoyable choral recital, but François Girard’s film is everything his American choral institution claims to be – old school, stuffy and dull. Classical maybe, but a classic The Choir unfortunately isn’t.
The Choir is released on 10th July 2015 in the UK