JWR Articles: Film/DVD - When We Were Boys (Director: Sarah Goodman) - April 19, 2010
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When We Were Boys

3.5 3.5
77 min.

Out of the mouths of boys

Sarah Goodman’s two-year peek into the lives of privileged young-men-in-progress has a certain fascination but cries out for more depth and back-story.

The setting is Toronto’s Royal St. George’s College where we meet Noah and Colin in grade eight. A part of each day is spent in the Healey Willan Choir Room where musical wings are attempted to be stitched onto the restless backs of the mostly unchanged voices. Under the snap-your-fingers-to-establish-the-beat tutelage of Douglas Jamieson, the frequent vagaries of pitch and largely unshaped phrases (notably from Noah, who has an excellent range that is largely left as raw material) grate on the ear and diminish the atmosphere of teaching excellence where the charges are constantly reminded that “Manners Maketh Men.” The musical equivalent ought to be “Full Breath-support Maketh Magnificent Music.”

Thank goodness for Jim Guthrie’s original tracks which soon wash away the less than satisfactory utterings from the choir—even while on summer tour in Spain.

Still, there are many telling scenes where the subject matter (unfettered privilege: e.g., Which airline is the best—Qantas seems to be a favourite) speaks to the kids’ exceptional lifestyle only to be balanced by fart eruptions, art class messes and sprouting a paper erection to remind the viewers that when the family balance sheet is disregarded the little rascals are determinedly human.

As the months pass, the principal subjects work through the notions of friendship—instantly reinforced by a teacher’s lesson or guest’s lecture—via scenes in the lunchroom, at home playing video and the intriguing game of Rock Band, an “Invitation to the Dance” (grade 8 graduating prom) and a butt-dive pool party.

While actions are meant to speak louder than words, the viewer is left with a somewhat superficial understanding of what makes “the leaders or followers of tomorrow” tick. The only real soliloquy comes from Noah’s lips during an upscale hair styling session where a Mozart violin sonata provides the salon’s classic Muzak.

The happy coincidence of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies being taught provides many images and metaphors to the studied/real issues around leadership, self-esteem and mob rule. But with no discernible “Piggy” in the documented mix, the possibility for a real-life knockout punch never presents itself.

Goodman and her talented crew have done an excellent job of trimming down the footage, delivering a “you-are-there” tour of the hallowed halls, but the torrent of emotion, humiliation and dastardly deeds that—at one time or another and in varying degrees—find their way into every adolescent’s history seem as absent as their wealthy parents. JWR

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Director - Sarah Goodman
Cinematographer - Mark Ellam
Original Music - Jim Guthrie
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