The opening sequences of Canadian François Girard’s film feel like a weird hybrid of 8 Mile and the wretched As It Is In Heaven.

Eleven-year-old Stet (Garrett Wareing) is a kid going bad. He has never known his dad and his mum is white trash alcoholic.

After she dies in a motor accident, the father (Josh Lucas), a happily married Manhattan millionaire, appears from nowhere to buy his son’s way into an exclusive college (as it’s done in Christopher Pyne’s heaven) that specialises in music education.

Unfortunately, Wareing is a bit of a pussycat who can’t do the tough boy like Eminem and as the recalcitrant urchin at a school of clean-cut nerds (they are real-life American Boychoir students), he is not in the same street as Mickey Rooney in Boys Town. In fact, he fits in rather too well to be an outsider.

Add that old ham Dustin Hoffman to the mix as Carvelle, the choirmaster, and you’d be excused for thinking that you’re heading prestissimo into a double-brie disaster.

But even though Girard never veers too far from a course set by comfy cliché, in focusing on the music – the spirituality of it, the beauty of it, the ability of it to transform lives – and allowing his characters to do what we all expect of them without too much fuss, the movie manages to take wings.

The location shots are lovely, too, with the masonry and stained glass of the school’s chapel creating a cloistered atmosphere that helps free the script of any banality that might threaten to overwhelm it.

Blond and bespectacled Devon (Joe West), a malevolent Malfoy-type, pulls the necessary stunt of bastardry that leads to Stet’s big moment and, though I found Wareing difficult to warm to, he won me over in the end.

The polish of Hoffman, and Kathy Bates as the school principal, is invaluable and it would be remiss of me to not mention Handel – if you can’t get off on his Messiah there’s something wrong with you.

~ John Campbell

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