"Consider it a gentler, family-friendly version of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle’s critically acclaimed music-prodigy-meets-despotic-mentor movie, which netted J.K. Simmons an Oscar for best supporting actor last month.

"And there is a bit of Rocky, as well as a million other films about people rising to the top, against all odds, in Quebec director François Girard’s Boychoir, scripted by Ben Ripley (Source Code). Released a week after Léa Pool’s nuns and music boarding school tale La passion d’Augustine, the story also has echoes closer to home.

"If there’s one thing Girard understands, it’s music. The director of Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) and The Red Violin (1998) doubles as musical director on this project and he makes sure we feel the transportive nature of song, particularly classical masterpieces sung by pre-pubescent boys with their whole lives ahead of them.

"Stet (newcomer Garrett Wareing), 11, is from the wrong side of the tracks. He takes more care of his single, alcoholic mother than she does of him. He acts out at school, but he is blessed with an amazing voice. So when mom dies in a tragic accident, Stet’s music teacher (Debra Winger) convinces his estranged, rich father (Josh Lucas) to send the kid to the National Boychoir Academy.

"Unrefined and lacking the years of training of his peers, Stet is greeted with skepticism by gruff choirmaster Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), likewise his ambitious assistant, Drake (Eddie Izzard). But money talks, and the school’s practical headmistress (Kathy Bates) persuades the men to shut up long enough for her to cash the generous cheque from Stet’s dad.

"There are no big surprises as to where the story goes from there. However, Girard impresses with how long he draws out the tension between Carvelle and Stet. Hoffman is routinely excellent as the impenetrable conductor who won’t give an inch. And Wareing shines as the bad boy with the voice of an angel and the cherubic cheeks to match. Glee’s Kevin McHale brings compassion and enthusiasm to the role of Wooly, a young music teacher who sees Seth’s true potential.

"The true star of Boychoir, however, is the music. In the era of American Idol, it’s a revelation to see a film champion the understated appeal of choral music, and to make it seem exciting in the process. It may not send a fresh wave of kids running to join a choir; but then again, it might." - Montreal Gazette



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