Boychoir (2014)

Boychoir (2014)
  • Time: 106 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: François Girard
  • Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Josh Lucas, Garrett Wareing, Kathy Bates


Stet, a troubled and angry 11-year-old orphan from a small Texas town, ends up at a Boy Choir school back East after the death of his single mom. Completely out of his element, he finds himself in a battle of wills with a demanding Choir Master who recognizes a unique talent in this young boy as he pushes him to discover his creative heart and soul in music.


  • Looking at the description of François Girard’s latest film Boychoir, one would assume that it’s taking some inspiration from last years indie flick Whiplash and a bit of Dead Poets Society, with perhaps some more influence from Boyhood for the title. Even one of the teaser posters is reminiscent of the Billy Elliot poster! But it would be cynical of me to just assume that Boychoir is attempting to be Oscars bait.

    Stet (Garrett Wareing) is a troubled youth who loses his mother at an early age. His father has started another relationship but hasn’t let his new family know that he has a son left from his previous wife. He sends Stet to a boarding school, which so happens to be an elite music academy. Stets talent as a singer accelerates him up the ranks, allowing him to go on tours, with the strong-willed choirmaster Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) encouraging him. However, Stet frequently finds himself alienated amongst his peers and has difficulty maintaining disciplined. This, combined with the secret his father is keeping from his new wife, proves troubling for Stet.

    As a fan of much of the talent behind Boychoir, including Dustin Hoffman obviously, it’s sad that my overall reaction to the film was ‘meh’. On the one hand it tries to be heart-warming with a positive message, but there’s a fine line between inspirational and the stereotypical emotional pleas of Hollywood.

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  • Eleven-year-old Stet (Garrett Wareing) may have the face of an angel, but he is an angry young boy. Prone to acting out in class when he’s not cutting it, Stet lives on the wrong side of the tracks, barely raised by a single mother who spends the days in alcoholic slumber.

    Stet has a guardian angel of sorts in the form of his school principal Ms. Steel (Debra Winger), who sees a musical ability within him that needs nurturing. She arranges for the touring American Boychoir to visit their school and for its headmaster Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) to audition Stet for the choir’s elite program. Stet runs out on the encounter, only to arrive home to the news of his mother’s death. At her funeral, Ms. Steel convinces Stet’s long-absent father Gerard (Josh Lucas) to provide Stet a chance at a better life by enrolling him in the American Boychoir School instead of sending him to foster care.

    Gerard’s generous “donation” secures Stet a spot in the school, though Carvelle bristles at Gerard’s approach. Carvelle’s choirmaster Drake (Eddie Izzard) can barely restrain his disgust at taking in Stet, whom he considers a stray. Yes, the boy has talent but he can’t even read music or understand any of the musical terminology – how can Stet possibly catch up to the rest of the boys, who have spent all of their lives living and breathing music?

    Stet finds supporters in the headmistress Justine (the invaluable Kathy Bates) and Professor Wooly (Glee’s Kevin McHale in a solid supporting turn). Wooly, in particular, begs Carvelle to grant Stet another chance to audition for the touring choir, arguing that Stet might be the one to take them to New York, the promised land for boy choirs. Yet Carvelle, noting Stet’s still-existing disciplinary problems, will not be swayed: “Behaviour is the issue. A good voice is not enough.”

    Boychoir doesn’t contain anything we haven’t already seen before. One might even recall the likes of Billy Elliot and last year’s Whiplash, similarly themed tales of underdogs pushed to realise their full potential. What does set Boychoir apart in this regard is the essentially temporary nature of Stet’s gift. Where the protagonists of Billy Elliot, Whiplash, and other films of this ilk arrive at the beginning of their future at film’s end, Boychoir’s Stet – along with the scores of other students – must capitalise on his vocal abilities before puberty hits and those abilities fade from the fore. Indeed, Stet wonders what the point of it all is. The lessons themselves are the point, Wooly answers, because the lessons teach you to appreciate what you have for the time you have it.

    That same sentiment holds somewhat true for the film, which is by-the-numbers formulaic. If the film pleases and makes you feel good, it is due to the durability of that formula and the seasoned playing of Bates, Izzard, and Hoffman. Ben Ripley’s script can be clumsily contrived, but it does generally avoid the sentimentality that could have instinctively vined through the story. Director François Girard, however, appears to have equated this avoidance with a sombre colour palette and rote direction.

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