The music in this little gem of a film is exquisite enough to make the angels I don’t believe in weep. Boychoir tells the story of a troubled 11-year old boy, Stet (played by newcomer Garrett Wareing), who is packed off to the National Boychoir Academy, a prestigious choir school for pre-adolescents on the East Coast of the U.S., after his alcoholic mother is killed in a car accident. His father, a rich New York businessman, isn’t keen to take on the responsibility of looking after his ‘secret’ son, conceived during a brief affair – a child his ‘real’ family knows nothing about.
Despite his angry, anti-social behaviour, and lack of formal musical training, Stet’s extraordinary voice earns him a place in the school. Alone, unable to read sheet music or perform scales, Stet struggles to fit into a world of the rich and privileged. He’s bullied and ridiculed by other students. But under the guidance of his teachers, Stet’s genius is discovered. He begins to compete for the lead singing roles against the soloist, Devon, their rivalry inspiring Stet to try harder (and reach that ever-elusive “high D”).
The relationship between Stet and the austere, authoritative choirmaster, Carvell (Dustin Hoffman), is complicated and full of conflict. Carvell kind of surreptitiously takes Stet under his wing, even though he views the child as disrespectful and is sparse with his praise. In a marvelous standoff between the two Carvell tells Stet that he won’t ‘make it’ despite his talent. “You’ve got it. You’ve got it right now and you’re blowing it. You’re a punk. And your time is ticking kid” he bellows out. “Well, you know your clock is ticking too, old man”, the 11-year old hits back. Hoffman lends gravity to Carvell, whose own chance at musical greatness was destroyed years ago. The cast also features a fabulous ensemble of supporting actors like Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard and Debra Winger.
Boychoirs are an immensely fleeting pursuit. A pre-adolescent boy has two or three years at most before that heavenly voice is gone forever. This film is about last chances and only chances; about what happens when you have only one thing to save you. The story is sweet and heartwarming but relies heavily on the power of the music. And powerful it is – it’s goosebumps and heart wrenching and tearjerker-ey. The plot resembles that of Whiplash, the Oscar-nominated drama about an abusive music teacher and his drummer student. Boychoir lacks the vigorous intensity or genial freneticism of Whiplash, but with its neat, happy ending is aimed more at a family audience than the latter.
Director: Francois Girard
Cast: Garrett Wareing, Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard
Rating: 3½ out of 5
Boychoir releases in South African cinemas on 21 August 2015.