The Chorus Movie Review

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Manipulative, maudlin filmmaking knows no cultural boundaries, and further proof of imports' potential for derivative corniness can be found in The Chorus (Les Choristes), Christophe Barratier's directorial debut - a runaway hit in its native France - about an inspirational music teacher at a boarding school for delinquent kids in 1949 France. An embarrassingly mushy story of an ordinary guy's yeoman efforts to change the world one rebellious rascal at a time, it's a movie that disingenuously invokes and exploits Nazi war crimes and child abuse in service of a feel-good fable. Cloying from start to finish, it's so drenched in syrupy sentimentality - from its plethora of quaint small-town Parisian details to its bludgeoning good vs. evil set-up - that one barely needs to read the subtitles to recognize its utilization of every convention found in Mr. Holland's Opus, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Dangerous Minds, and innumerable other films in Hollywood's trite, faux-uplifting "good teacher-bad student" sub-genre.

Former aspiring musician Clément Mathieu (a charismatic Gérard Jugnot) is the new instructor at a school for uncontrollable adolescent boys which - under the strict orders of dastardly principal Rachin (François Berléand) - punishes bad behavior with swift violence in a policy referred to as "Action - Reaction." Such abuse doesn't sit well with Mathieu, a sensitive soul who believes that there's goodness hidden underneath these wayward kids' rough exteriors. Naturally, The Chorus wholeheartedly subscribes to this romantic theory, characterizing each and every pint-sized punk as an angel in disguise. Though initially intent on terrorizing their new teacher, Mathieu's students see the light once the music-loving professor turns their unruly class into a disciplined choral group, their vocal training indirectly inciting them to study, reconnect with their families (in the case of Jean-Baptiste Maunier's star singer Morhange) or find surrogate parents to embrace (such as with Maxence Perrin's impish Pépinot). As far as Barratier's rose-colored fairy tale is concerned, every bad seed - regardless of his vileness - is redeemable with a little Do-Re-Mi and TLC, and thus The Chorus goes to great lengths to play up the central conflict between compassionate care and corporal punishment embodied by the kindhearted Mathieu and wicked Rachin, a villain so groaningly cartoonish it's a wonder he doesn't twirl his graying moustache.

Desperate to be labeled "Dickensian," the film packs itself full of tiny troublemakers cast in the Artful Dodger mold, yet Barratier and Philippe Lopes-Curval's script rarely bothers to provide more than crude characterizations of its adorable criminals-turned-choirboys. Broad strokes are all the first-time director employs, moseying along from one schmaltzy scenario to another (Mathieu's budding father-son relationship with Morhange, Rachin's underhanded attempts to take credit for the chorus' success, a potentially fatal injury suffered by the school's caretaker) without paying any attention to realism or emotional sincerity. The Chorus, up to its happily-ever-after ending, yearns to stir the heart with its account of one man's noble act of selfless humanism and its belief in the inspirational power of song. Yet the offensive actions undertaken by Barratier to achieve his insufferably sappy ends - including a mawkish narrative frame in which an elderly Morhange, now a world famous conductor, and Pépinot reunite to peruse the recently deceased Mathieu's diary - ultimately incite little more than a pained reaction.

Dry bones.

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Comments

The Chorus Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2004

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