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July 9, 2015
The story about a young boy who tries to master his skill under the supervision of an old teacher is definitely not a unique premise, see Karate Kid, Billy Elliot and Akeelah and the Bee just to name a few.
Starring newcomer Garett Wareing as the young, angry and talented Stet who must learn how to sing if he’s to be accepted by his peers in a choir school led by lead conductor Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman), The Choir follows the same basic journey we’re already familiar with but still has just enough of its own identity to keep you interested.
The film starts off with Stet beating up another kid for insulting his mother, while the head-teacher at his school tries to set him up in a competing choir school to give him a better chance at life. It’s a fairly standard beginning but then the film suffers from taking itself a little too seriously, resulting in contrived events designed to make you feel empathy for a character you already like.
Eventually Stet makes it to the choir but despite his talent, he is severely behind the other boys academically and must work hard to sing his heart out, setting himself against the talented vocalist Raffi (River Alexander) and the jealously competitive Devon (Joe West), the resident ‘superstar’ who isn’t above a dirty trick or two.
Stet hates his competition as much he hates the school but both Waering and the script sell this character’s personality very well. A true underdog always gets my vote and Stet wins you over as he’s determined and cool. Lead conductor Carvelle and the boy have an uneasy relationship, neither really understands the other one’s motivation or lack thereof.
As much as I’d like to compare this character dynamic to that between Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in this year’s Whiplash, Carvelle is nowhere near as tough on Stet as Fletcher is on Andrew in the Oscar winning film, although there is a competition to win the lead solo part for anyone who can reach the impossibly high-d note.
The choir school is also led by Eddie Izzard as Drake, another teacher who sorely wants to lead the choir after Carvelle, leading to very funny tête-à-têtes between the two. It’s this chemistry between all these performers that makes the story believable.
The faculty has a great set of characters: Carvelle is demanding but fair while Drake is stuck to his academic roots. There’s also Wooly (Glee‘s Kevin McHale) the youngest teacher at the school and as such the only person to believe in Stet when he first arrives. However, a plotline about Stet’s extended family which had a lot of promise remains underdeveloped as it’s too serious yet easily resolved.
The Choir is a decent story about adolescence and adapting to new situations. Helped enormously by the talented cast portraying the faculty members and the charming presence of newcomer Garrett Wareing in the lead role, it’s a comforting film to sit through, if maybe a little too serious for a story about a boy trying to prove he can sing.
The Choir is released in UK cinemas on July 10th