There is something about a boy choir that is ineffably moving. You’ve seen it on Britain’s Got Talent – sitting there in front of the telly, bemoaning the show’s producers for their emotional manipulation, resolutely declaring that it wouldn’t ever defeat you. Then a bunch of teenagers from Wales take to the stage and start singing some hymn, and that’s it, you’re crying. It’s so atmospheric, almost spiritual, rousing and chilling – sensations that lend themselves remarkably to François Girard’s latest endeavour, The Choir.
Stet (Garrett Wareing) is an 11-year-old with behaviour issues, often landing him in trouble at school. Raised by his single mother, when she is the victim of a tragic car accident, he’s left in the company of his estranged father, who is quick to ship him off to a prestigious music school, to harbour Stet’s talent for singing. Though reluctant at first in giving this troublesome kid a chance at such a reputable establishment, the choir master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) and headmistress (Kathy Bates) realise that the potential in this youngster is enough to make them the very finest boy choir in America – just as long as they can keep him in check.
To call this heartwarming drama conventional would be something of an understatement, as a picture that abides faithfully to the tropes of the genre at hand. What transpires is a tremendously predictable feature, albeit presented in a rather affectionate manner. Though on the surface such a lack of ingenuity seems off-putting, there’s a certain comfortability about this endeavour, following a formula we can identify with. Every now and again, films such as The Choir are exactly the sort you’re in the mood for. It won’t surprise you in any way, but will make for an amiable, engaging watch.
There’s an added sense of poignancy, and an emotional core that derives from the lack of longevity in this cruel business. The second these kids reach puberty and their voice breaks, it’s all over for them. It’s this short-lived owning of talent that makes for a rather profound study of growing up, a notion that is explored effectively in this instance. Boyhood was a prime example of how such themes resonate with an audience, and this plays heavily on that, as the idea of leaving childhood behind and maturing is one that is symbolised dramatically in how these kids have little choice but to move on. There are comedic elements to counteract the pathos too, mostly coming from Bates and Eddie Izzard – who plays teacher Drake, but both are unused somewhat. Particularly the former, who steals every scene she’s in.
In a similar vein to Kingsman, The Choir is a traditionalist tale of the underdog, of a working class, under-privileged kid mixing in a world unbeknown to him, a more affluent, expectant environment – and yet proving that simply having more money is not always paramount, and talent often prevails. Also similarly to Kingsman, The Choir succeeds as a piece of filmmaking, hitting every note. Even that pesky high D.