FILM REVIEW by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Dustin Hoffman may not be the box office draw he used to be but there’s something comforting about his presence on screen. Lately, the 77-year-old has leaned towards grandfatherly roles that take advantage of that quality, although not of his considerable acting chops.
Hoffman gets some of his edge back in Boychoir, a well-crafted family drama by Québec filmmaker Francois Girard (The Red Violin). The film revolves around Justin Bieber lookalike Stet (Garrett Wareing), an 11-year-old rebel with the voice of an angel.
Following the death of his mother, Stet’s rich but absent dad shoves him into the American Boychoir School, an exclusive establishment that’s not above accepting generous donations as qualification for admission. Stet’s instructors recognize his innate talent early, but they also see him as trouble — and he can’t read music.
Rather than being taken under someone’s wing as you might expect, Stet realizes his success or failure is pretty much all on him. He slowly gains the attention of both crusty choirmaster Carvelle (Hoffman) and Draco Malfoy-esque classmate Devon, who’s not willing to share the spotlight.
The movie goes through familiar beats of a high school drama, with episodes of bullying, a life-changing epiphany, the big competition and the triumph of the outsider. Yet Boychoir also has a couple of surprises — like the school staff, which includes sharp-tongued Eddie Izzard and beleaguered Kathy Bates, and an epilogue that puts the film in a different light.
Probably the most frustrating part of Boychoir is the fact that it introduces a really interesting concept — the fleeting nature of talent — but fails to develop it fully. The high vocal pitch the kids reach is bound to disappear as they mature, so singing isn’t a career option for most of them. Yet, as Carvelle puts it, they have a responsibility to make the most of their gift while they have it, as there’s no bigger sin than wasting a talent.
As morals go, that’s not a bad one at all. If only Girard had done more with it.