Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Josh Lucas, Eddie Izzard
After the death of his single mother, Stet (Garrett Wareing), an angry 11 year old is sent to a choir school by his estranged father (Lucas). Though he has natural talent for singing, he has never been interested in using it and finds himself locked in a battle of wills with tough choir Master Carvelle (Hoffman) who recognises Stet’s unique talent and pushes him to appreciate and use this talent.
I have of course said it many times, and will happily say it many times again; it does not necessarily matter how generic or clichéd a film’s narrative can be, it can be what is contained within that said narrative that can be the key deciding factors in whether a film is engaging or not. This includes, for example, genuinely good character development or an exploration of an interesting theme or idea.
Well, The Choir is certainly more than happy to adopt plenty of familiar, and therefore predictable clichés and narrative tropes that a film of this kind contains. However, though the ‘emotionally uplifting’ quote on the poster is of course there by the marketing bods to sell DVD copies, don’t let that put you off; The Choir, while in no way an unforgettable masterpiece, is more than the cynical, twee and saccharine film that it could have so easily become.
His previous works show that director François Girard is very much a man with a major passion for music, and it is the undeniable and also unavoidably infectious passion for the subject matter of music that certainly elevates The Choir as an engaging drama. Admittedly this may depend on the viewer’s own musical tastes, but those who appreciate the subtle beauty of choral music will not be disappointed by the narrative’s musical selection, but also its undeniable passion for it. The use of choral music, both diagetic and non-diagetic, also adds to a profound and genuine sense of melancholy to the overall mood of the film and all characters within it, though admittedly some of this may come accidentally more from the music used than intentionally from the actual script.
Though the film is of course about Stet’s journey first and foremost, Dustin Hoffman’s Master Carvelle is just as much a protagonist and by far the film’s most interesting character and certainly has his own narrative journey (albeit a predicable one). We only learn snippets of his past and how that has shaped the way he is now, and though the interest we have in his character is more down to Dustin Hoffman’s superbly understated performance than the clichéd script, Carvelle’s character arc does make The Choir that much more engaging and satisfying.
Meanwhile the rest of cast of familiar names such as Debra Winger, Eddie Izzard and Kathy Bates do solid jobs and make their lines of dialogue count, and Garrett Wareing convinces as Stet even if some moments in his narrative journey feel incredibly forced and rushed.
As the narrative develops Stet encounters the usual narrative obstacles that are often resolved by truly lazily written coincidences, and there is no doubt that certain moments that are big emotional revelations for some characters are dealt with carless and lazy causality by the narrative. Ben Ripley’s script could have certainly done more, but we cannot help but route for Stet and want him to succeed, even if sometimes we are not sure why.
Though The Choir has a typically formulaic and clichéd narrative and script, it is thankfully rescued by the director’s obvious passion for the film’s subject matter, the use of sumptuous music and Dustin Hoffman’s towering performance.