Boychoir revisits misfit myth

Apr 30, 2015

There’s a go-to trope in US story-telling – films, novels, even music – about the misfit kid who grows up and either triumphs over, or at least is embraced by, the social milieu that initially rejects him.

Good Will Hunting is a classic of the genre, as are Huckleberry Finn and Johnny Cash’s song “A Boy Named Sue”.

That heartwarming theme represents one of America’s foundation myths: the reification of individualism, often achieved fictionally (ironically enough) with indulgent community support for the near-feral child’s exceptional gift.

The gift may be of any kind, but maths and science wizardry are always popular, as are sport and music. So as you settle in to Boychoir, and realise Ben Ripley’s script will take no chances but fixate on a literal re-telling of the myth, the narrative arc is easy to map.

Stet’s gift is singing: he’s an angelic soprano, but we don’t learn this for a few scenes and we don’t hear him sing for some time. First, director François Girard establishes Stet’s somewhat over-egged alienation, with the first scene literally showing him on the wrong side of the tracks as a slow goods train crawls through his rural town.

He’s misbehaving at school and his alcoholic single mother can’t hold down a job. Meantime, he runs away from an audition for the prestigious Boyschoir.

A couple of scenes later, Mom dies and a hitherto unknown, extremely rich dad turns up at the funeral. Dad sends Stet to board at the exclusive Boyschoir school, where he has a mostly horrible time but perseveres to become the star. The story climaxes predictably, and the final scene is just desultorily mawkish.

Boyschoir is cynical pap. Despite giants Dustin Hoffman (was he really once so vivid as Tootsie and Ratso Rizzo?) and Kathy Bates, the audience is expected to indulge a hokey script, cardboard characters and musical howlers. Did you know you can play piano without depressing the keys?

The film pretends to celebrate both music and a boy’s journey to maturity. But really, it’s just ho-hum fodder designed to help sell Fantales.

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