This handsome-looking Canadian feature boasts an impressive cast and director François Girard is well-versed in musical milieu (Girard was behind the unconventional but highly acclaimed 1993 biopic Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould), but The Choir (2014) is a fairly airless coming-of-age tale whose exquisite, ethereal soundtrack often manages to tug at those heartstrings even if the unfolding narrative doesn’t. It’s the type of drama which looks like it was commissioned primarily with the grey pound firmly in mind.
Newcomer Garrett Wareing is Stet, a tearaway teenager with a troubled home life (cue alcoholic mum slumped on sofa next to an empty vodka bottle) but an angelic voice which his teacher (an underused Debra Winger) insists he puts to greater use. When tragedy strikes, Stet’s estranged father manages to enrol him in a peerless boy’s choir school, full of precious, preened teenagers whose idea of a wild time is listening to Handel in their dorm rooms after class. Stet’s place in the school is immediately frowned upon.
Chief among the naysayers is stuffy music teacher Drake (Eddie Izzard) and although Dustin Hoffman’s Zen vocal instructor Carvelle (think a much less intimidating, if equally demanding version of Terence Fletcher from Whiplash) has initial reservations about the boy, he’s soon able to see the raw talent in front on him. It’s a familiar tale of triumphing over adversity, with Stet not only having to overcome jealously from his peers but also fighting social prejudices (an idea that could have been more substantially explored). Unintentional hilarity creeps in as Stet’s chubby, cherub-faced antagonist takes revenge in a moment which looks like it could have been lifted from an episode of The Simpsons.
Girard’s elegant and studied direction mostly helps smooth over some of the clichés inherent in the material, but it’s all a little too po-faced at times. The cast perform well, although they’ve all been much stronger elsewhere. Kathy Bates occasionally sparks as the harassed headmistress but Hoffman is just a little too subdued throughout, sometimes failing to exude his normal brand of gravitas. This is most obvious during Carvelle’s speech towards the end of the film which doesn’t hit those emotional, rousing heights the scene calls for. Despite these issues, The Choir remains entirely watchable but it’s also entirely unremarkable.
Adam Lowes | @adlow76