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IN SHORT: A decent and delightful dance-themed filled comedy [Rated R for language. 111 minutes]
Before we begin, we'd like to point out that star Jamie Bell sat with Paul Fischer for CrankyCritic® StarTalk. Click here to read it!
It's one of the oldest stories known to modern civilization: A poor, hardworking father wants a better life for his son and does his best to guide the boy into a life which will, at minimum, have the potential to yield more creature comforts and far more opportunities.
Any successful translation to the big screen depends on three things. Are the characters developed enough that we lock in on their (characteristics) instantly? Is the background situation not so bleak that it interferes with the telling of the tale? Is there a conclusion that, whether positive or negative, is satisfying and in synch with all the actions in the first two acts of the film -- or, more important, with audience expectations?
Sounds simple doesn't it? As I've seen over the last several years, simple is often the hardest thing to pull off. Most of the time, stories are told from an adult point of view. Every so often, a child tells the story from its vantage point and oftentimes lacking the emotional maturity (aka baggage) to fully understand adult actions. Those films fail.
That is not the case with Billy Elliot, which manages to capture all the exuberance and physical energy that blasts out of an eleven year old title character and paints the big screen with a complete palette of full strength emotional colors.
The setting is the North of England, land of coal mines and job options numbering one. Jack Elliot (Gary Lewis) is the widower dad of the house, worried about making ends meet as both he and elder son Tony (Jamie Dravin) have been on strike at the local mines for years. At home is Jack's feeble mother, looked after by eleven year old Billy (Jamie Bell), between weekly boxing lessons at the local gym. Jack's father was a boxer. Boxing is going to be Billy's way out of the mines. The only kink in the plan is the appearance of Mrs. Wilkinson's Dancing School in a corner of the gym one day, all young girls in tutus. One, Debbie (Nicola Blackwell), catches Billy's eye . . . unless it isn't the girl, but the dance. Pinching the boxing money to pay for private lessons with Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), Billy decides to audition for the Royal Ballet School, and sets himself on that inexorable path towards macho confrontation when his dad finds out.
You can guess where that's heading. Billy is not a "poof," and the screenplay by Lee Hall gently plays with those preconceptions as it moves towards an ending with enough twists to keep those folk who scream about traditional family values happy as clams. This family is poor. The strike makes it poorer and there is a grim undercurrent beneath all the joy that pours out of Billy. Do not be expecting another Full Monty. Billy Elliot is a full fledged, well rounded and deeper than average motion picture (and unlike a lot of Brit films we sit through, the accents aren't so thick as to get in the way of understanding or enjoyment of the film).
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Billy Elliot, he would have paid...
Definite dateflick level. Exuberant and delightful it is, yes indeed.
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