Skip to main content

The Choir | Film review - Soaring music lifts underdog tale, with help from Dustin Hoffman's crusty maestro

The Choir - Dustin Hoffman, Garrett Wareing

Best known for a pair of surprisingly offbeat films inspired by classical music –1993’s 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould and the 1998 musical detective story The Red Violin - Canadian director François Girard returns to filmmaking after a long break with another musically themed movie, but compared with those earlier films it’s very conventional fare.

Whiplash (opens in new tab) without the whip-smart wit, The Choir (released in the States as Boychoir) is yet another tale of a strong-willed young pupil and a demanding mentor. The strong-willed young pupil is rebellious 11-year-old Stet (Garrett Wareing) and the demanding mentor is Dustin Hoffman’s renowned choirmaster Anton Carvelle, a crusty stickler who spots the troubled tyke’s potential after he defies the odds and enrols at the elite National Boychoir Academy.

The Choir - Garrett Wareing

What ensues is all too predictable: the angelic-voiced underdog clashes with his posh peers (his chief tormentor, a pale blond snob, is a ringer for Hogwarts’ Draco Malfoy), raises the hackles of a snooty teacher (Eddie Izzard, of all people) and strives to win a prestigious solo spot, all while struggling to win the love of his estranged father (Josh Lucas).

Yet it’s reliably heart-warming stuff, if you’re in the right mood, with spunky newcomer Wareing holding his own opposite screen maestro Hoffman, and Debra Winger and Kathy Bates providing vivid cameos. The script may be formulaic, but the ending hits some unexpectedly melancholy notes and the music – a mix of Handel, Britten, Tallis and Mendelssohn - always soars.

starstrip3

Certificate PG. Runtime 103 mins. Director François Girard. http://youtube.com/v/NXScuagczx8

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.