Stet (Garrett Wareing) comes from a difficult family background that turns even more difficult when his mother suddenly dies. His biological father Gerard (Josh Lucas) has no interest whatsoever in him. Pressured by Stet’s school principal Ms Steele (Debra Winger) who sees a singing talent in Stet, Gerard does take him to a school famous for its boy choir and makes Stet’s admittance happen with the help of a generous donation. There Stet starts to train with Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) who demands much of his students but also gets results.
Boychoir wasn’t exactly a bad film, but from a pedagogical stand-point it is highly questionable. So questionable, in fact, that I couldn’t really enjoy the film anymore. But at least the music is pretty.
Boychoir goes off the rails pretty quickly: starting with Ms Steele, who invites Master Carvelle to her school precisely so that Stet may audition for him (how she may know about Stet’s talent is left unclear. Personally I don’t know any school where principals are that well-informed about students to know of their singing talents when they never actually sing), but doesn’t tell Stet about it until she pushes him in front of the Master for his audition. Anybody who has ever worked with human beings shouldn’t be surprised that this tactic fails utterly.
But it gets worse: after Stet’s mother dies, Ms Steele blackmails Stet’s father (who is married to another woman) into bringing Stet to Carvelle’s school across the country. Because of course making Stet the responsibility of a man who isn’t interested in him and taking him out of his familiar environment to dump him alone at a boarding school (where he doesn’t actually have a place yet), instead of maybe looking for a nice foster family in the area, is the best thing thing that could possibly happen to him. You know why? Because he gets to develop his singing talent. Nevermind such pithy things as love and care, a child doesn’t need that kind of stuff.
But wait, that isn’t all! Because Stet thrives in his new school, mostly out of a quiet desperation that he can’t afford to lose his place there as he has literally nowhere else to go (he spends his Christmas holidays alone at the school, which nobody notices because apparently none of the caretakers there have to actually make sure that the kids are handed over to an adult, practicing his singing). And then his father is invited to the concerts Stet sings at. And Stet sings so beautifully that his father is moved to come clean to his wife and take Stet in at the end of the year. Basically what the movie tells us with that particular narrative is that unwanted children just have to become better to be wanted. Because they’re obviously not good enough in the first place to be wanted, but if they improve, if they show their talents, they will find a loving family. I can’t even begin to describe on how many levels this is wrong.
The movie also deals weirdly with the transiency of boy’s choirs (everything is lost once they hit puberty because all their musical education is apparently gone with their high voices), but that gets pretty much lost in the horror of the film’s view on “troubled children” and pedagogy in general. As does the good cast (though Joe West’s Devon is hilarious). The only thing that manages to save itself at least a little bit is the music.