Director: François Girard
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Garrett Wareing, Kevin McHale, Eddie Izzard, Josh Lucas, Debra Winger, River Alexander
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 12 March 2015
Synopsis: Starring Academy Award® winner Dustin Hoffman and directed by François Girard, visionary director of Cirque Du Soleil and Academy Award® winning The Red Violin, Boychoir discovers that there is brilliance in everyone if only you dare to dream. A recently orphaned 12-year-old boy is sent to a musical boarding school by an anonymous donor – no-one expected this rebellious loner to achieve the standards required to join the Boychoir – a choral band of brothers who travel the world and maintain the school’s famed status.
This reviewer happens to play in a symphonic band during his younger days in school, and he still remembers the feeling performing music in front of what seemed like tens of thousands of people. Truth is, a concert hall couldn’t possibly hold that huge number, and it’s all in the performer’s mind. The takeaway though, is a somewhat triumphant one, especially for a teenager who thought the arts was a dream worth pursuing. And that is why this writer enjoys watching movies which deal with performing arts – from feel good ones like Billy Elliot (2000) and Chicago(2002), to psychologically disturbing ones like Black Swan (2010) and the recent Whiplash (2014).
French Canadian director Francois Girard (Silk, The Red Violin) goes old school (read: no flashy computer effects, complicated story plots and gimmicky marketing ploys) and makes a film about the titular boy choir which travels the world to perform to crowds of impressed music lovers. Amongst the boys is a troubled and angry 11 year old orphan who joins the group against his will. Of course, as any inspiring stories would go, he has a gift in the form of a heavenly voice. And like any other inspiring story, the kid will play rebel and go against the system, before being pushed to the limit to discover his talent.
Do not be put off by the fact that this 103 minute film has nothing innovative or surprising to offer in the story department. One does not step into the cinema to watch a feel good genre movie like this, and wanting a mind bending script with twists and turns with the package. What you should be expecting instead, is an emotionally engaging drama with likeable characters. Even if there’s an antagonist thrown into the mix, it’s a young boy who is petty and jealous because the limelight is taken away from him – nothing too dramatically evil or out of the world here.
The child actors fare well – Garrett Wareing as the protagonist, alongside other relatively unknown names like Joe West, River Alexander and Grant Venable. These angel voiced young boys sing to their hearts’ content in impressively filmed stage performances taking place in concert halls and cathedrals. As a viewer, you just need to sit back, relax and enjoy these on screen performances.
To draw people into the theatres, it’s necessary that the filmmakers include some established names in the cast. Here, we have the capable Dustin Hoffman (Oscar winner for 1979’s Kramer vs Kramer and 1988’s Rain Man) and Kathy Bates (Oscar winner for 1990’s Misery) playing the demanding choir master with a melancholic past and the pragmatic headmistress with a heart. The 77 year old Hoffman takes on the role effortlessly, portraying a lonely man with an unexplained sadness, albeit one who will bring his troupe to greatness. Bates, who shines with her occasional humourous moments, is another highlight of the film. The adult cast is rounded up by supporting roles played by Edie Izzard (Across the Universe, Valkyrie, Josh Lucas (The Lincoln Lawyer, J Edgar) and Debra Winger (An Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment).
As the applause fades off after the film’s finale performance, you realise that the arts is about living in the moment. And it’s part of that phase of life known as growing up, a message which this film has aptly brought to life on screen.
(Pleasing performances from the cast, especially from the capable Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates, make this feel good drama emotionally engaging)
Review by John Li