This remake of the 1945 Jean Dréville film “La Cage aux Rossignols” was seen by more than 7 million moviegoers in France, making it the biggest French hit of the year. It’s no surprise: rarely have I seen a film as drenched in good sentiment. At any moment I expected puppies and rainbows to burst out of the screen.
“Les Choristes” takes place in the Fond de l’Étang boarding school, where rowdy problem kids only know strict discipline and harsh punishment until Clément Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot), a failed musician, is hired as their new supervisor. The warm and compassionate bald man will bring music into their lives, turning these rotten apples into happy little choirboys.
This is basically “The School of Rock” for grandmothers, a feel-good melodrama full of gentle humor, broad sentimentality and cutesy kids with heavenly voices. The numerous songs performed by the choir, most of them composed specifically for the film, are pleasant enough, but the thin story built around them is forgettable. You got your conflict with the grumpy principal (François Berléand), your hint of romance between Mathieu and the mother (Marie Bunel) of one of the students and other subplots of the kind, but they’re just filler until the next musical number.
Thank Odin for Gérard Jugnot, who’s able to be immensely sympathetic without being cloying, unlike first time writer-director Christophe Barratier, who apparently never met a cliché he didn’t love. “Les choristes” isn’t great cinema, but it is certainly a crowd-pleaser.