Saturday, 30 May 2015

Movie Review: Boychoir (2015)



With how pseudo-academic these reviews must sound at times, today’s film seems like the sort of film I should be reviewing as opposed to something like the Pitch Perfect series. Something deeply cynical in my brain, that is to say my entire brain, wants me to believe that Pitch Perfect 2 and this film being out as the same time isn’t a coincidence: Both featuring vocal groups, with the former focusing on Top 40 hits and the latter on classical works and hymns; Hansen vs. Handel, if you will, except the bout is being done on-screen instead of on Epic Rap Battles Of History… hmm… I should remember to suggest that at some point. At any rate, today’s film is the latest offering featuring one Dustin Hoffman and features vocal ranges that the human voice should not be able to reach: Boychoir.

The plot: After the death of his mother, Stet (Garrett Wareing) is sent to the prestigious National Boychoir Academy boarding school by his estranged father (Josh Lucas). His teacher Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) sees his natural talent for singing and tries to nurture it, but his attitude and inability to work with his classmates, namely Raffi (River Alexander) and lead singer Devon (Joe West), threaten his education. However, Stet is determined to overcome his obstacles and background and prove himself as part of the Boychoir.

Aside from putting a major focus on the writing aspect of films I watch, the other big trend I’ve been noticing with my reviews is that I keep pointing out tried-and-true story archetypes that readers have no doubt seen before. At times, it feels like I’m being more than a little hypocritical about pointing out writing that just seems to be repeating a lot of what came before it. But, I find myself having to do it once again here as this is a pretty copy-and-paste underdog story. Hell, it almost feels like the film is actively taunting the audience with how basic it is given how one of the first moments of the film is Stet walking on the literal wrong side of the tracks. We also have a drunkard, insinuated-to-be-a-prostitute mother, a douchebag birth father played by Dick McPunch-A-Bruce from Ang Lee’s Hulk, a teacher who sees the main’s talent and wants to see him grow, and a rival who is cartoonishly evil in the form of Devon. Seriously, the scene where Devon tries (and kind of hilariously fails) to screw over Stet during a performance was only missing a bolt of lightning and maniacal laugh with how bizarre it looks. Oh, and his classmates constantly flip-flop throughout the film about whether they continue taunting him alongside Devon and Raffi or be his friends. Not to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons for both, as the rest of the students earned a placement in the Academy while Stet’s father literally bought his way in, but a bit of consistency would have helped.

Okay, so the story and quite a bit of the dialogue are stock and kind of ridiculous in places. But how do the actors carry it off? Really, the only reason I could ever find myself recommending this film as a whole is for the acting as the cast here is quite good. The last film I saw starring Dustin Hoffman was Little Fockers, which holds a special place for me as the first movie I saw post-Critic that I flat-out did not like. As such, Hoffman could have gone full Pacino here and hammed it up to the extreme and it still would have been an improvement over that bit of excretia. He really works here as the stern conductor because, while he is still written in a pretty basic role, Carvelle is a few touches more realistic than most others I’ve seen here. He has the typical want to see the protagonist succeed but it isn’t nearly as blind as I’ve seen elsewhere as, while he admits that Stet is a talented singer, he knows that Stet’s attitude towards his craft and lessons could jeopardize that and that he needs to change that for himself. Hoffman carries this off with a lot of conviction and easily makes for the focal point of the film where most of the entertainment can be derived from. Josh Lucas may be playing a pretty blatant asshole throughout the film, given the rather douchey way he keeps talking at the other characters and his complete inability to leave well enough alone, but his filmography has proven that he can play that role exceptionally well and this is no exception. Eddie Izzard as the taciturn Drake is a nice balance between abrasively British and entertainingly smug that A Royal Night Out couldn’t manage, and makes for a fun scene-stealing role. Garrett Wareing may not be as experienced as most of the cast here, given this is his feature film debut, but he does surprisingly well at keeping up with Hoffman, Izzard and even Kathy Bates' school headmistress. As much as I rag on this film not being the most original thing in the world, I will give credit where it’s due in that the opening scene with Stet in his music class does a superb job of introducing us to his character in such a short amount of time… not entirely sure if this is a good thing overall, as it boils him down to being a little too simple in terms of development but it’s a neat scene nonetheless.

Given how this is a film devoted to the inner workings of a choir, talking about the music is mandatory at this point. Now, while the singing itself doesn’t really work for me as my ears aren’t exactly well-tuned for higher pitched tones which make up most of the songs here, this film gets points for giving the singing itself some deeper meaning. The scene where Hoffman explains to Stet the effect that their singing has on the audience, invoking a religious devotion to his work while simultaneously admitting that he isn’t the most traditionally religious person out there. Even if it didn’t necessarily have the same effect on me, the way Hoffman and his dialogue portray it makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, though, the ending is hideously tacked-on in its attempts to add an element of mysticism to the inevitability of growing up within the context of a choir. Sure, it could have worked had it been given more screen time to develop as opposed to just being strapped to the tail-end of the film, but it ultimately just feels forced. At the very least, this plot point leads to the extremely stirring credits song Mystery Of Your Gift as sung by Josh Groban, variations of which are comprise most of if not all of the film’s score.

All in all, clich├ęd? Yep. Silly in places? Most definitely. Ultimately bad? Honestly, if you have the right musical tastes for the choir music that is the main focus of the film, then the acting can make this a decent watch. It’s definitely good to see a film that stars Dustin Hoffman that actually knows how to use him for a change, but then again that might only be comparative. But, as over-analytical as I am, I can at least see a use for another underdog story in cinemas as opposed to a lot of other films I’ve seen this year. It’s better than A Royal Night Out, as there’s no real moment of genuine annoyance like a lot of the smugly British dialogue was in that film. But, even if the music here is relatively better, Far From Men put a lot more effort into the overall production far as I can see.

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