Witnessed at the 11th Dubai International Film Festival
International Premiere: The Cinema of the World Gala Screening
Written by Dania Syed
What To Expect
François Girard’s long-drawn-out career as a director, whether of films or operas, has vastly centered around music. Rising to fame for his critically acclaimed Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993), Girard went on to direct The Red Violin which won him an Academy Award for Best Original Score, enshrining himself as a key player in the international movie scene.
After a 7-year directorial hiatus following his less successful Silk, Girard has made a welcome return to filmmaking with his euphonic drama, Boychoir. Inspired by the polished raw talents of the American Boychoir School, Girard’s Boychoir is a refreshing young-adult drama film that is set to appeal to masses of all ages.
What’s It About
Stet (Garrett Wareing) is a troubled 11-year-old Texan, who has had to raise himself alone with no help from his alcoholic mother (Erica Piccininni). Following her death, Stet’s estranged father, Gerard (Josh Lucas), who has been sending child support regularly for a decade, is not interested in taking custory of the illegitimate son who is a threat to his married family life in New York.
Taking advice from Stet’s sympathetic school principal, Ms Steel (Debra Winder), Gerard takes Stet for admission into the prestigous American Boychoir School. When the stout headmistress (Kathy Bates) alongside head conductor Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), his assistant Drake (Eddie Izzard), and young teacher Wooly (Kevin McHale) all decline Stet’s admission for various reasons, Gerard writes them a hefty cheque in the name of a ‘donation.’ Carvelle holds this bribery, in addition to other events, as resentment towards Stet, whose troubled brought-up does not make it easy for him to fit in, as he seeks to push the boy to recognise and nurturehis talent, putting his soul into the music.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
The old saying, “All good things must come to an end,” has never been truer than when speaking of talent. The most tragic thing about a gift is that we outlive it, and that theme is explored beautifully in Ben Ripley’s crackerjack writing, which – thankfully – steers clear of brazen schmaltz, and remains very credible throughout the course of the film. The most notable moment is the stark contrast we see in Stet’s behaviour in the opening minutes of the film, where he goes from being an arrogant, troublesome boy at school and on the streets to a forlorn son from the moment he enters home, burdened by his mother’s indifference and drinking problem, having to take charge of both her and himself.
The shift in the establishing tone from harsh to tender is masterfully edited by award-winning editor Gaétan Huot, who previously worked on both Girard’s successful Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and The Red Violin, and his extensive use of J-cuts and sound design as transitions from shot to shot is simply marvelous, coupled with Brian Byrne’s music and complemented by David Franco’s breathtaking cinematography. The choral arrangements are bewitching, and there is great emotion surrounding the harmonious conglomeration of voices.
Generally speaking, Boychoir would appeal more to an older set of audiences than the early/pre-teen viewership. This is not at all a hindrance, however despite all that is good about it, there are a few questions – albeit insignificant – that remain unanswered in the plot, such as how Ms Steel came to know of Stet’s vocal talent, or why Gerard drove all the way down to Stet’s mother’s funeral when all those years he remained lukewarm about his son.
To Perform Or Not To Perform
Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates are undisputable prodigies of the entertainment industry, and accompanied by the established Eddie Izzard, Debra Winger, Josh Lucas and Kevin
McHale in addition to the freshly found Garrett Wareing, Boychoir is studded with exceptional performances all over.
Casting director John Papsidera, who has worked alongside director Christopher Nolan on all his recent blockbusters, embarked on a worldwide search for the right Stet, and the multi-talented Garrett Wareing fit the bill perfectly. Having been coached by Max Decker of CM Acting Studio, Wareing’s debut in Boychoir demonstrates the remarkable flair he possesses, with which he has no fear of expressing himself, never once seeming undermined by his more experienced counterparts.
Hoffman humbly allows Waring to shine, as does his tough-loving Carvelle. He and Bates are together very genuine with their performances, and how easy they have made it look on-screen is a testament to their vast experience. Bates’s headmistress’s on-and-off arbitration of Hoffman’s Carvelle and Eddie Izzard’s Drake provides impeccably timed cues for a light laugh.
“It must be a special kind of torture,” says Bates, “waiting for someone to retire,” to an irked Drake, whom Izzard has portrayed with a competitiveness that he ultimately spills onto the boys. TV Series Glee‘s Kevin Mchale with his Wooly and three-time Oscar nominee Debra Winder’s Ms Steel are together the warmest of portrayals with their empathy for Stet.
Josh Lucas delivers as the indifferent yet constantly worried father, and the sprouting River Alexander and Joe West show immense promise as the two boys in school threatened by Stet’s arrival.
The verdict: Yes!
With modern-day youngsters rapping away, Boychoir is a refreshing allegory celebrating a real talent that young boys can nurture as they race against adolescence. In its very nostalgic setup of an elite boarding school, and one master instilling love for the arts in his students at the helm of it all, Girard has created in Boychoir a heartwarming reminiscence of the classic Dead Poets Society that is yet an entirely fresh tale with his sensitive fingerprints all over the narrative.
Star Rating: 4 / 5
Boychoir was premiered for the first time outside the US and Canada at the 11th Dubai International Film Festival. It is set for a 2015 release in the UK and Germany.