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|aka: The Choir|
dir Francois Girard
scr Ben Ripley
prd Judy Cairo, Carol Baum, Jane Goldenring
with Garrett Wareing, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin McHale, Kathy Bates, Eddie Izzard, Josh Lucas, Debra Winger, Joe West, River Alexander, Dante Soriano, Sam Poon, Grant Venable
release US 3.Apr.15, UK 10.Jul.15
US/14 Informant 1h43
Reluctant prodigy: Hoffman and Wareing
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Relentlessly heartwarming, this music-based drama has a plot that's carefully constructed to appeal to sentimental viewers. More cynical audience members will find it difficult to buy into the emotionally manipulative storyline, although at least there are some throwaway moments that raise jagged laughter. And despite the corny approach, the music is lovely enough to break through the schmaltz.
In Texas, Stet (Wareing) is a troubled pre-teen on the verge of expulsion from school, so he's sent live with his father Gerard (Lucas) in New York. But Gerard has never told his wife or kids that he has another son, so he hides Stet in the National Boychoir Academy outside the city, where Stet impresses the teachers with his prodigious singing talent. But his defiant behaviour puts him at odds with master conductor Carvelle (Hoffman), even as he's taken under the wing of a more open-minded teacher (McHale) and the patient headmistress (Bates).
Director Girard and screenwriter Ripley obviously didn't believe that this story of self-discovery was quite enough, so they ignore all of the dramatic possibilities (Stet never grieves for what he loses, while Gerard barely struggles with his own dilemma). Instead, they introduce much more superficial external conflict in the form of sneering fellow teacher Drake (Izzard) and demonic top choirboy Devon (West), who are trying to bring down Carvelle and Stet for their own shallow reasons.
These distracting plot-points badly water down the much more intriguing themes that gurgle through the relationship between Stet and Carvelle, who are played very nicely by Wareing and Hoffman even though their characters feel rather simplified. And the always reliable Lucas seems to have been almost edited out of the film altogether. So while Izzard does a great job provoking everyone, and McHale provides positive Glee-like vibes, it's left to Bates to steal the whole movie with a couple of hilariously prickly rants that offer the film's only moments of authenticity.
That said, there are strong messages in the film's themes relating to the kinds of influences that can help a lost child find himself and plot a course forward. And even more intriguing is the issue of adults who are open-minded to learning something from a child rather than just telling them what to do. But you have to work to find this kind of meaning in a movie that works so tirelessly to control your every emotional response.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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