Swelling choral sounds and astute central performances assist this amiable and thoroughly predictable crowd-pleaser.

Befitting its moniker, Boychoir is alive with the sound of music. Given its ample scenes of children singing classical songs, this is far from surprising; however the film's grasp of the importance of harmonious tunes to its success reaches beyond than the obvious. Echoes of melodies gone by bleed through from one sequence to the next, the emphatic acoustics lingering over the imagery in the same manner that they obviously haunt the characters. It is a canny touch — indeed, it is the feature's best touch — and one that helps patch over the unashamed formula on display otherwise.

Once more living up to its name, the film is immersed in the world of the American Boychoir School, a real-life institution for the best of the best in the pre-pubescent male singing scene. The elite music academy beckons for Odessa boy Stet (feature debutant Garrett Wareing) not initially out of desire, but out of necessity, after family tragedy leaves him with no other options. There, under the tutelage of three teachers – the reluctant Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman, Chef), the stern Drake (Eddie Izzard, Castles in the Sky) and the kinder Wooly (Kevin McHale, TV's Glee) – his talents begin to flourish. With the school determined to earn an invite to a New York performance perceived as the apex of the choral world, Stet becomes crucial to their plans, though questions still remain about his attitude and discipline.

Happily playing their most crowd-pleasing notes, director François Girard (Silk) and writer Ben Ripley (Source Code) present Boychoir as a collection of clichés from the outset. Cobbling together pieces from coming-of-age tales of disenfranchised youths and high school set-ups as much as from the wealth of competitive, sporting efforts – in singing and in other fields – the film works through a list of obvious plot points designed to tug at heartstrings: the gifted outsider with behavioural problems, the unfortunate home life and absent father, and the classmate rivalries included. Escaping the familiar unfurling of events is impossible, not that there's any evidence of daring to move past the rote narrative inclusions. Thankfully, the filmmaker ensures that going along with the flow is amiable, if thoroughly predictable.

 Where the music by Brian Byrne (Albert Nobbs) keeps the mood simmering nicely, the cinematography by David Franco (Game of Thrones) offers picturesque, plainly framed visuals to match. In its construction as in its narrative, the feature takes the standard approach in telling its tale, though it is never anything less than elegant to look at. Accordingly, the task of filling in the few gaps left by the rousing score lands with the cast, with each hitting their notes. First-timer Wareing may be in passive mode, but thankfully it suits his internalised, awkward character, while Hoffman imparts his tortured instructor with the right amount of softness beneath a tough-love exterior

Their central dynamic, overshadowing brief appearances from Josh Lucas (The Mend) as an unwilling dad, Debra Winger (Lola Versus) as an enthusiastic principal and Kathy Bates (American Horror Story) as a world-weary administrator, lift the bulk of Boychoir as it coasts by on its montage-heavy underdog padding, heading towards the grand, inevitable finale. Interestingly, the film does save its strongest material for last, though not in its singing showcase. While only given passing treatment, contemplating the reality that faces students like Stet – who toil away to achieve choral glory but only have mere years to harness and capitalise upon their talents – is what really resonates beyond average, easily anticipated drama.

Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Director: François Girard
USA, 2014, 103 mins

Release date: 23 April
Distributor: Becker Film Group
Rated: PG

Sarah Ward

Wednesday 22 April, 2015

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay