After the death of his single mum, troubled 11-year old orphan Stet (Garrett Wareing) from a small Texas town, ends up at a Boy Choir school back East after the death. Out of his element, he finds himself in a battle of wills with a demanding Choir Master (Dustin Hoffman) who recognizes a unique talent in this young boy as he pushes him to discover his creative heart and soul in music.
Review by Louise Keller:
While there may not be too many surprises in this warm-hearted feel-good movie about music, belonging and nurturing the gifts you are given, Boychoir soars by grace of its clear narrative, strong cast and the pure harmonious voices that can only be described as celestial. Directed by Francois Girard (The Red Violin), the film excels at hitting all its marks as it weaves a story in which the troubled protagonist finds his path through music. It's about the relationship between father and son, teacher and pupil and rival choir members; emotions include guilt, frustration and jealousy. The film is involving and moving, while the music takes us to another emotional level.
When we first meet Stet (Garrett Wareing), he is angry - provoked or not. Chaos at school and chaos at home with an alcoholic single mother. 'You can only get one chance at a first impression,' his supportive headmistress (Debra Winger) tells him, when she arranges for an audition with Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), the revered conductor of the famed American Boychoir School. There are several opportunities squandered before Stet walks through the doors of the school with his father Gerard (Josh Lucas); Stet is the unwanted secret that has burdened Gerard for years and which his new family is unaware. The school is an environment where music dominates. I smiled when a student tells Gerard: 'The squeak in your shoe is Eb'.
Stet's icy reception by fellow students is echoed by the crisp winter chill outside the East Coast establishment. We are there for the torments, the rejections, the angst and the joys as Stet finally becomes selected to be part of the touring choir. The scene in which he learns his happy fate is a moving one and takes place with no dialogue. A new challenge arises: poisonous jealousy brews in Devon (Joe West), lead boy soprano, who feels threatened when he hears Stet's voice.
At the heart of the film is the relationship between Stet and Carvelle and Hoffman plays the role with restraint. It's a tense relationship and although we never have doubts as to where it is heading, we are never sure how it will get there. It is not only Stet who learns from their relationship. Wareing is centre stage throughout, especially effective once the tough-guy routine has been shelved, nailing all the required emotions. I like Kathy Bates as the pragmatic headmistress and Eddie Izzard brings an extra dynamic as Carvelle's Number 2 ('It must be torture waiting for someone to retire'). Girard extracts terrific performances from all the boys - we get a real sense of the environment in which the boys rap in the bathroom and sing Handel before their audience.
Wait for the moment when Stet hits that top D at the all-important New York concert; you may need a tissue (Stet's glorious soprano voice is credited to Benjamin P. Wenzelberg). The music is Handel's Messiah and the musical crescendo coincides with that of the other story strands. Not only does the purity of the note resound and prompt a spontaneous emotional response, but also symbolises the essence of the story: reaching for the stars without compromise.
There is something inexplicably beautiful about the purity of the boy soprano, whose gift is fleeting before the advent of adolescence. To that end, I have always wanted to see the Vienna Boys Choir perform and I finally got my wish last year at a concert in Vienna. It didn't disappoint. This film doesn't, either.
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CAST: Dustin Hoffman, Garrett Wareing, Josh Lucas, Kathy Bates, Debra Winger, Kevin McHale, Eddie Izzard
PRODUCER: Carol Baum, Judy Cairo, Jane Goldenring
DIRECTOR: Francois Girard
SCRIPT: Ben Ripley
CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Franco
EDITOR: Gaetan Huot
MUSIC: Brian Byrne
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jane Musky
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Film Group
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 23, 2014