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category: Review

Side Street Films: The Choir

Monday, September 7, 2015 by

Eden Cinemas’ innovative Side Street Films programme is aimed at showing that there is “more to cinema than Hollywood” – and we couldn’t agree more. Our resident cineaste Shaun Antnin takes a look at the fortnightly offerings from Eden’s artistically oriented programme and decides what they are worth.

Raised by his alcoholic single mother, eleven-year-old Stet (Garrett Wareing) hasn’t had it easy. He deals with his frustrations by railing against everything there is to rail against in Odessa, Texas; especially at school. His sole supporter is Ms Steel, a sympathetic teacher, who worries the boy will throw his life away, but also sees in him innate potential which he does not see himself. Other than that glimmer of light, his life is just an amalgamation of negative aspects formed by bad luck and moulded by a confrontational personality.

When fate deals him first a very unfortunate hand and then a far more fortunate one in quick succession, Stet suddenly finds himself at an exclusive all-boys boarding school in New Jersey which specialises in training exceptional choristers. Finding himself in an alien environ, his personality, upbringing and attitude soon bring him into conflict with most of the teachers and almost all the boys, many of whom bully the newcomer.

Now he must discover belief in himself before he can go on to prove himself to those around him. Among the aforementioned ‘those’ are wilful headmistress (Kathy Bates), ageing choirmaster Carvelle (Dustin Hoffmann) and his prickly, Machiavellian deputy Drake (Eddie Izzard). Among his peers, Stet’s arch-nemesis is Devon, the choir’s arrogant lead singer and current star boy – championed by Drake – who sees Stet as the rival to his crown. To achieve his goals, such enemies must be defeated, opponents placated and obstacles surmounted.

Coming straight to the point if it isn’t clear already it should be apparent from the off that this drama by François Girard is a completely straightforward film, albeit benefitting from an excellent cast. Headed by an remarkable performance by the young lead, Wareing, who impressively holds his own against a subtlety pared-down Hoffman, they are supported by several others, who are all on equally good form. Every performance is highly commendable, as is the camerawork and the sound (a topic I shall return to shortly). This film ticks all the dramatic and cinematographic boxes without breaking any new ground.

What is supposed to raise this work above all those that have gone before is the focus on the eponymous boys’ choir and the narrative’s primary setting in the all-male, primarily pre-pubescent adolescent environs of a boarding school for choristers, rather than in your typical mixed-sex American High school. All told, the choral music is exceptional, and if that is the kind of aural stimulation you go in for, the immaculate quality of singing and the production values apparent in the choral competition and exhibition scenes would justify the admission cost on their own.

the-chorus

So, technically the film is excellent. The only question remaining is whether, once the choral element is removed, is there enough original plot left to make a case that this feature brings anything new to an already burgeoning table? In my opinion, the simple answer is ‘no’, but that’s solely because I don’t feel that it’s doing anything new. However, even attempting to contemplate (or evaluate) this film without its score would be tantamount to setting Downton Abbey on an oil rig in the Eighties, or removing the magic and spells from Harry Potter.

thechoir-xlarge

Consequently, the above comments should not be misread as serious criticism. I don’t have a bad word to say about this production. It does what it sets out to do and does it well. But that’s it. No twists, no turns. Just like watching a generic cowboy film from the 1930s (or any subsequent decade) where it isn’t a case of ‘Will the guy in the white hat beat the guy in the black hat and get the girl?’ but rather more a case of ‘We know he’ll beat the baddie and get the girl, but let’s sit back for an hour and a half and watch what we expect to happen unfold before us’.

Does Stet pull through and prove to everyone that he is as talented and as able as Ms Steel and the audience knew he was all along? Well, watch it and you’ll find out. You will surely not be disappointed.

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