Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Kevin McHale, Josh Lucas, Debra Winger, Garrett Wareing, Joe West, River Alexander.
Directors: François Girard
Screenplay: Ben Ripley
A film is about separate sound and visual elements coming together in harmony. They can all have their own beauty, grace & power; however if these separate elements don’t quite have the beauty, grace & power then rather than sublime filmic awe it creates a rather lack lustre affair.
This film has the elements to create a really nice, small and uplifting drama about a boy who finds himself within the embrace of a boy choir. It has the storyline, it has the actors, and it has the right target audience in mind. But do these elements create any real harmony?
The story focuses around our protagonist Stet (Garrett Wareing); a young preteen delinquent who plays up in class, loiters around town, and has a mother who in between losing jobs lives on the couch drinking her sorrows away (however she does seem to really love her son). Luckily Stet’s principal Ms. Steel takes an interest in his life and after finding out he can sing invites the American Boychoir to come perform and audition Stet. However Stet doesn’t know about this so when Dustin Hoffman (Master Carvalle) asks him to sing for him Stet bails. When he finally makes it back home after running away from school, Stet finds two police officers outside his house to tell him that his mother died in a car crash.
At her funeral a black car pulls up and his estranged father steps out (Josh Lucas). We quickly learn that his father had an affair with his mother which he would like to keep from his wife and two daughters. After a discussion with Ms. Steel he drives Stet (the very day of his mother’s funeral no less) to the American Boychoir boarding school. Stet is made to sing in front of a charming Kathy Bates, a half there Dustin Hoffman, the-dude-who-wants-to-take-Hoffman’s-job (Eddie Izzard), and the kindly tutor and Glee alum Kevin McHale. Though he is a good singer they declare that he is too old to be taught until Lucas gets out his cheque book.
The rest of the film goes as expected with the boys fighting for solo spots and the teachers fighting for artistic dominance. Stet quickly makes his way up the soprano ladder while facing various trials along his journey. He becomes the chosen one if you will (kind of like Anakin) – the boy who is too old to be taught, eldest leader has little faith but the young teacher sees the true power in his soul. That kind of thing.
This all sounds really enjoyable, and in many ways it was really enjoyable, however the separate elements create no filmic harmony. The story trudges along underneath the never ending musical score, and the actors have little room to move and breathe within the story. It is a stellar cast and I am sure they did their best but nothing comes together. The film feels convoluted and heavy handed under the pressure of well meaning cliches and dramatic glares between the younger cast. There are many scenes with a great assortment of comedic banter if the director (François Girard) gave free reign of pace to the actors. The potential this cast had together is almost unfortunate.
In saying this the talent of these young kids is a joy to watch. There is a section where Stet and Devon are competing for the final solo which includes a high D. The sound is beautiful and the control and natural talent it takes to reach it is worthy of praise. This film struggles to find the harmony of filmmaking but the one harmony that never falters comes from the choir itself.
This musical talent comes from such a rare gift and for such a rare time in the singer’s life. As the film closes so does Stet’s moment of preteen life. His voice becomes lost in the name of growing up but as his boyhood comes to a close, the door is pulled wide open in acceptance with his peers, his teachers, his father, and most importantly with himself.