Too much pretty in Boychoir

Garrett Wareing is Stet Tate, leading the National Boychoir, in the eponymous film. Photograph by Myles Aronowitz

Garrett Wareing is Stet Tate, leading the National Boychoir, in the eponymous film. Photograph by Myles Aronowitz

It’s odd to think that a director could get some parts of a film so right, but enable an ending for a film that so profoundly negates all its explored values in one foul swoop. While François Girard’s Boychoir probes the preciously transient phenomenon of the soprano boys’ choir, an institution virtually as old as European church music itself, he successfully ramps up the crassly sentimental and harshly formulaic construction, filtering it through with a thick and morally troubling vein of money that even its sterling adult cast, headed by Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Izzard and Kathy Bates cannot save.

The story of a pre-pubescent boy afflicted by the vagaries of a single parent with her own problems, but one equipped with a talent that can take him out of the murk of it all, Boychoir is predictable, even if it has an insultingly ostensible fairytale ending. But it is the music that will generally make your heart sing, and is the central draw-card of this work.

The film begs comparison with the 2000 British dance film Billy Elliot directed by Stephen Daldry, which takes apart how the fragile thread of talent can grow into real life if nurtured and plucked and whittled appropriately. Unlike the latter, which opens up issues ranging from sexual awareness to economic balance, Boychoir remains monolithic in its storytelling. This is a pity. Clearly armed with the kind of seed money that gives it access to beautiful settings, the use of Karl Jenkins’s work and other fine elements, the story itself plods, which severely challenges the overall result.

But further to that, there’s the lack of a master’s directorial touch. Crowd scenes are always an interesting opportunity for the construction of texture; films such as Jean-Jacques Annaud’s (1986) The Name of the Rose or Peter Mullan’s (2002) The Magdalene Sisters as well as Aisling Walsh’s (2003) Song for a Raggy Boy – to say nothing of Miloš Forman’s (1975) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest all present a coagulation of humanity in a context and the bringing together unusual looking people as well as the uniformly pretty ones, lends the comments the film offers nuance, intelligent and crepuscular insights and sheer brilliance. This doesn’t happen in Boychoir. While Garrett Wareing stands out with his sultry pout and long fringe, in his role as the central character, Stet, the rest blend into blandness.

It’s a strange turning around of values: constructed in the contemporary world filled as it is with the immediate internet and social-media access to everything, something of the quest for perfection, of the time taken to craft something as perfectly as possible is lost, and the film, while articulating some beautiful caveats about the preciousness of time, becomes a hum-drum affair.

  • Boychoir (2014) is directed by François Girard and features music direction by Brian Byrne and cinematography by David Franco. Its cast includes Kathy Bates, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Izzard, Garrett Wareing and Joe West, amongst others.
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