‘Boychoir’ has a very strange dichotomy. On the one hand, it’s a tediously predictable story about a lost boy with talent who finds acceptance in a prestigious choir of (you guessed it) boys. On the other hand, the movie was made by a talented director (Francois Girard, of ’32 Short Films About Glenn Gould’ and ‘The Red Violin’) with an overqualified cast who consistently elevate the material. As a result, a bad script often feels like a good movie, just not enough to actually be worthwhile overall.
The talented and mercifully un-precocious Garret Wareing stars as Stet, a troubled young boy with an alcoholic mother, an absent father, and the voice of an angel. His principal (Debra Winger) sees his talent and tries to get the boy to audition for a prestigious choir in the hopes of changing his life, but he runs away to get up to more nogoodnik behavior instead. Then his mother dies and his long absent father (Josh Lucas) appears and bribes the boy into the choir. From there, Stet takes lessons from the wise and bitter choir master (Dustin Hoffman) and gets support from the equally wise, yet less bitter principal (Kathy Bates). The kid is talented enough to lead the choir, but first has to fight off the generically evil lead singer (Joe West) and an equally generic skeptical teacher (Eddie Izzard). Do you think you know where the story goes from there? I assure you that you do. Just think about it for 30 consecutive seconds and all will become clear.
Yes, this is another one of those “troubled young talent finds himself” movies with all the obvious trappings. The movie makes no attempt to conceal its clichés or depart from formula. It’s so obvious that the bad teacher and rival student even look exactly like each other to avoid any confusion. Even though the movie attempts to be somewhat raw in its emotions, the predictable plot dispenses with reality so often that they rarely register. Josh Lucas’ character obviously comes around to accept his son, but all that interior drama is expressed through a handful of longing glances through windows that suggest inner turmoil and shifting perspectives without bothering to delve into them.
In oh-so-many ways, ‘Boychoir’ plays like a TV movie with all the comforting obviousness that implies. However, it does have one hell of a central cast, and that makes things tricky. Garret Wareing might not have much of a character to play at the center of the film, but he plays the hell out of it and drags the audience into the tedious story through sheer natural talent. Dustin Hoffman plays his crabby teacher with such inner pain and unspoken tragedy that he’s impossible to tear your eyes from no matter what he’s saying. Even Kathy Bates and Eddie Izzard bring such warmth and humor to their plot device characters that they occasionally resemble actual human beings.
Director Girard stages and shoots the film with such restraint that the big dramatic beats and reveals can often feel small and human. As easy as it is to resist the tiresome screenplay, somehow the movie feels so much richer and stronger than it actually is while it’s playing out, thanks to the hard work of a strong director and a handful of perfectly cast actors.
Unfortunately, the credits eventually roll, and as you wander out of the theater, it’s too easy to pick apart what you’ve just seen and recognize the glaring flaws. Still, ‘Boychoir’ is so well executed that it often works in spite of itself. That’s some sort of achievement, even if not a particularly noble one.
‘Boychoir’ is certainly not a great movie or even a particularly good one, but it’s entirely watchable – a perfect antidote for anyone frustrated by the gut-wrenching drama and ingenuity of ‘Whiplash’ and a passably mediocre timewaster for anyone else with 103 minutes to kill and no other viewing options.