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Review: Boychoir


How dare you squander your talent?” are the words of Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), a demanding choir master at the prestigious East Coast boys choir. Stet (Garret Wareing), the film’s protagonist fires back with the cheekily profound words, “Your clock is ticking too, old man”.

At the heart of it, Boychoir is tale of a preteen boy who learns to find his voice. Beautifully shot with a wonderful cast, François Girard directs a coming of age story about a rebellious young boy with an amazing talent. New comer Garret Wareing stars as 11-year old Stet, a trouble-maker at his public school, with a mother who is more concerned with having her next drink than her son’s troubles. Stet, though unnoticed at home has a guardian angel in the form of his caring principal, played by industry veteran Debra Winger, who notices his talents and creates an opportunity for the young boy to audition for the prestigious Boychoir. On his day of audition day, Stet learns of his mother’s death and runs away, losing out on his golden opportunity.

All is not lost as the audience learns of Set’s estranged father (Josh Lucas), who has been paying child maintenance monthly, but, unfortunately wants nothing to do with his son. It is Stet’s father however – with a little convincing from Stet’s principle of course – who enables Stet the opportunity to be a part of The American Boychoir School, where Kathy Bates is the school’s stressed out principal. Needless to say to the school is rigid and disciplined and Stet struggles to fit in at first. Stet’s time at the school is met with more difficulty as he clashes with his choir master, played by two-time Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman.

Stet’s lack of musical experience sees him placed in a beginner’s music class where it is discovered he cannot read music. It is however the teacher (Kevin McHale) of beginners’ class who unearths Stet’s raw talent, and pushes him to join the touring choir despite his inexperience. In spite of this, Carvelle sees a boy squandering his talent in Set, as he is not interested in making the best of the opportunity afforded to him at the new school seriously.

Hoffman portrays Carvelle as a man who is engulfed by his sadness and loneliness. A man of few but sharply delivered words, the character of Carvelle adds greatly to the composition of the film. All he truly cares about is the music and leading the boys to the number one position. His sense of competition impacts his choir boys, which is evident when a rivalry ensues between lead soloist, Devon (Joe West) and Set who starts to come into his own. This rivalry is amplified by Eddie Izzard’s character, a teacher and Carvelle’s second in command, whose favoritism between the two boys clouds his judgment of talent. The question of who is the better singer, is answered when the two boys battle it out for the lead at the last performance of the year.

Oscar winner Kathy Bates, though underutilized in this film as the overloaded principle of this prestigious school, manages to deliver a worthy performance. It’s marvelous to watch the young Wareing hold his own in scenes with Hoffman. Music lovers will enjoy the amazing score, while the boys’ angelic voices could bring anyone to tears. Unfortunately the film follows all the predictable conventions of an inspirational flick and fails to strike the right chords. The music is the only thing that might keep audiences from dozing off.


Lungelo Khanyile is a Durban born and bred film enthusiast, and aspiring film critic who lives for film, television and writing. "Simplicity provides a fine line between elegance and plainness" is a quote I live and write by.

Twitter: @lungelo_k  


The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.



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