Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Boychoir – Dustin Hoffman can’t save this formulaic musical drama

"Utterly predictable" melodrama is a poor man's Whiplash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 September, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 September, 2015, 12:07pm


A wayward teenager redeems himself with his angelic voice in this utterly predictable, if also mildly satisfying, melodrama by François Girard, the French-Canadian director of such classical music-themed movies as The Red Violin (1998) and Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993).

On the same day that Stet (newcomer Garrett Wareing) loses his alcoholic single mother in a car accident, the gifted 11-year-old boy is recommended by the kind administrator of his Texas public school (Debra  Winger) for a place at a fictionalised version of the elite American Boychoir School in New Jersey. Then his wealthy, long-estranged father (Josh  Lucas) comes along to buy his way in – if only to keep the boy away from his new family.

While the private boarding school’s pragmatic headmistress (Kathy Bates) is happy to receive the untrained Stet, quite implausibly believing he can singlehandedly elevate the choir’s standard to that of hot New York gigs, her no-nonsense choirmaster Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) is turned off by both the “donation” of the boy’s father and  Stet’s own lack of discipline.

It’s not spoiling anyone’s pleasure to suggest that Stet and Carvelle will in time warm to each other and their choir will go “all the way” for a celebrated final concert. Formulaic to a tee, the movie also goes through the motions to introduce an obnoxiously arrogant lead singer (Joe West), a villainous English assistant (Eddie Izzard) and a supportive young instructor (Kevin McHale).

In spite of Stet’s tough family background and Carvelle’s supposed reputation as a maverick, this poor man’s Whiplash never quite conveys the depths of its protagonists’ struggles. Ultimately, viewers must make do with the artificial contentment that comes with Stet “hitting a high D” as the featured soprano soloist.

 Boychoir opens on September 10