Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Debra Winger, Eddie Izzard, Kevin McHale, Josh Lucas, Garrett Wareing
Director: François Girard
Writer: Ben Ripley
When a person exhibits a natural talent for something, whether it be singing, art, sports, academia, and so forth, many people feel that it ought be regarded as a gift. It is a gift that should be treasured and appreciated. Further than that, anyone who possesses such a gift is bestowed a responsibility to make use of it (just ask Spider-man). Each talent is a gift not just to the individual but also to the entire world. It belongs to everyone and to no one. This is the stance that Boychoir takes as it tells the tale of a young, naturally gifted singer in his quest to defeat the odds, to find the greatness within himself, and to become the best singer that he can be. It is the same tired rags-to-riches triumph over adversity story that has been done a million times before but, in the film’s defence, it does tells the story quite well.
The story is that of Stet (Garrett Wareing), a misunderstood 11-year-old boy with a violent temper and a troubled background who shows himself to be smart and extraordinarily gifted. He lives in rural Texas with his alcoholic mother and goes to a school where his brilliance is unappreciated by all apart from one. His teacher Ms. Steel (Debra Winger) recognises his incredible talent and gives him the chance to showcase his voice in front of Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), the choirmaster at one of the most prestigious music schools in the country. Stet doesn’t want anything from these people and walks out of his audition. However, when his mother dies in a car crash, Stet is thrust into the hands of his father (Josh Lucas) who has his own family and wants nothing to do with his illegitamite son. Ms. Steel implores him to enrol Stet in the boy choir school, and so the father buys Stet’s way in and leaves him there.
Stet finds himself out of his element in a place completely alien to him. He is thrust into a difficult and demanding music program under the tutoring of Wooly (Kevin McHale), a young teacher who believes that Stet has the potential to be a magnificent singer, and Drake (Eddie Izzard), an older teacher who resents Stet for his lack of training and education. He is made to compete against other boys from privileged backgrounds who have already had years of training and experience and who look down on him for his commonness. Stet does not want to be in this school nor has he ever aspired to use his gift but, in the absence of any other alternatives, he begins to apply himself. Before long he gradually starts to fall in love with the music and realises what a gift his angelic voice truly is. He develops an ambition to become a part of the school’s internationally renowned boy choir but can only do so if he wins the approval of Carvelle. To win his approval Stet must learn to overcome his temperament, to believe in himself, and to bare his heart and his soul through music.
It is the same old story that has been told time and time again about an underdog who proves himself against all odds, but it is at least done well. The acting is all-round decent, the writing is fine, and the story does manage to inspire the audience to sympathise with Stet and to root for him. However the best part of the film by far is the music. The film features many choral masterpieces such as Fauré’s ‘Pie Jesu’, Karl Jenkins’ ‘Adiemus’, and Handel’s ‘The Messiah’, all of which are performed beautifully. One of the main themes of the film is Stet’s search for beauty and meaning in music and the masterful renditions featured in this film do a superb job of showing them. In addition Dustin Hoffman gives a proficient performance as the music maestro Carvelle. He is a man who has reached the autumn years of his life and, after a long career of teaching and performing, still holds a deep and fundamental love for music. Music is his life and his passion and so there is nothing he resents more than to see a young boy with an extraordinary gift but who chooses to squander it. Therefore when he crosses paths with Stet, who in turn responds with anger and disdain, Carvelle is driven to push Stet and shape him into the singer he knows he can be.
This is a film that falls squarely in the ‘pretty good’ category. It doesn’t offer anything new, but it still succeeds in being a decent, worthwhile film. It is well written, it makes good use of its star-studded cast, and it is an ideal choice for any viewer looking for a pleasing feel-good film. Although Boychoir is far from the most original or the most inspired film ever made, it is overall an enjoyable film that is worth watching for the soundtrack alone.