Movie review: Boychoir is Whiplash, but with heavenly singing

Review Drama


103 minutes/Opens tomorrow/***

The story: Stet (Garrett Wareing) is a troubled student who is as bad at studies as he is good at singing. Reluctantly, he is enrolled in an elite music academy, where a demanding, but influential choir master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) sees immense talent in the wayward boy.

In the wake of the Oscar-nominated Whiplash (2014), which also tells the story of a music student and his tough teacher, this film feels markedly mediocre in comparison.

Hoffman's performance is - as expected of the two-time Oscar winner - fine and layered and tinged with a bit of loneliness that explains his reserved nature.

But his relationship with Stet is nowhere near as compelling as the one between teacher and student in Whiplash, which was so much more tense and exhilarating to watch - and not just because Carvelle is not the sociopath that J.K. Simmons' character was in Whiplash.

While Carvelle is the most respected man in the music academy here, it does not feel as if Stet desperately requires only his approval to succeed.

Whenever Carvelle brushes aside his student, Stet finds other supporters who help him move ahead anyway - from the younger, warmer teacher Wooly (Glee's Kevin McHale) to the no-nonsense, but kind school administrator (Kathy Bates).

The stakes for Stet are simply not high enough to convey just how crucial Carvelle's tutelage should be for him.

Still, the film is feel-good and comfortable to watch, complete with cliched scenes such as the altercations between Stet and the rich kid bullies.

Also familiar to audiences is the stereotype of Stet's pouty, troubled boy, previously seen in numerous other melodramas.

As soon as he opens his mouth to sing (even if this is not newcomer Wareing's real singing voice), however, the movie truly shines.

After all, as director Francois Girard has proven with his previous music films Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) and the Oscar- winning The Red Violin (1998), getting music onto film is his real forte.

The choral arrangements here, performed by New Jersey's American Boychoir in various locations from school gymnasiums to concert halls, is rousing, heavenly stuff.

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