Glasgow Film Festival: Likeable music school drama featuring Dustin Hoffman
The Choir, from French-Canadian director François Girard, is a charming, thoughtful music school drama that dials down the expected sentimentality and plays like a PG version of Whiplash.
Newcomer Garrett Wareing plays Stet, a rebellious 11-year-old with the singing voice of an angel, whose alcoholic single mother dies in a car crash, leaving him in the care of his biological father (Josh Lucas). With his own family oblivious to the boy's existence, Stet's father is eager to wash his hands of his secret son, so he takes the advice of kindly principal Ms Steel (Debra Winger) and enrols Stet in New Jersey's prestigious American Boychoir School, whereupon Stet clashes with stern-but-fair choirmaster Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) and enters into a rivalry with star pupil Devon (Joe West).
Hoffman downplays his usual twinkly-eyed persona to superb effect, adopting a thin-lipped, stern expression that you watch, hungrily, for cracks of emotion. Wareing too makes for an appealing presence as Stet, and his escalating sense of pleasure in his emerging talent is nicely handled. There's also reliably great support from Kathy Bates as the school's exasperated headmistress.
Girard orchestrates the complex choral singing scenes with a love of the music that shines through. And, though Ben Ripley's script embraces several of the expected clichés to its detriment, the film also doesn't play out in quite the way you expect. In particular, The Choir takes a considered look at the ephemeral nature of the boys' talent, noting that each of them are likely to have lost their ability to hit the elusive high notes in just a few years, and using that idea to impart a genuinely moving message about living in the moment. This is a well made, emotionally engaging drama that captivates thanks to a likeable cast and some impressively staged performance sequences.
General release 10 Jul.