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IN SHORT: Ab-so-lute-ly mesmerizing.
As always, Cranky makes no comparison to the Source Material.
Cranky thinks you may need to take a trip to the United Kingdom. Britain, both times I've been there, is a country seemingly caught in a time warp. Here is a land that has given us the musical equivalent of revolution and yet, the quality of the country does make one feel as if you're living in 1958. That's only the barest of explanations to help set up a better appreciation of Little Voice, a remarkable and remarkably small tale of a pathologically shy boy and girl -- this is the UK, after all. You're not grown-up until you've got one foot in the grave.
Readers are warned that, without even the barest knowledge or appreciation of the pop music styles of the 40s and 50s you will probably not make the emotional connection with this movie that its creators want you to, though you may hook into the story, which is small and solid. And pretty damned good.
And I'm starting to write like a film student, so let's get down to it. . .
Little Voice is set in the Northern English seaside town of Scarborough. There, you'll find a run down records shoppe with a rattily wired apartment in the back that is just getting its own telephone. In the apartment are the widow Mari (Brenda Blethyn) who pours herself into clothes that were garish even when she was young enough to be blister hot in 'em. Her daughter, aptly named nicknamed "little voice" rarely speaks, and even then only at a whisper. She locks herself in her room, listening to records collected by her long lost dad. Recordings of Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe and Billy Holiday. LV doesn't date or socialize, yet she catches the eye of a similarly mute telephone installer and pigeon fancier, Billy (Ewan McGregor). Mom is rolling in the hay with her past-his-prime equivalent, a second rate sleazy talent agent called Ray Say (Michael Caine).
Mom's an abusive old slut, and one evening while ready for her roll in the hay, she and LV battle it out with a pair of record players. It's Garland vs The Trammps and the wiring can't take it. In the silence of the black out, LV lets loose with a dead on Garland reproduction. Turns out this is LV's only way of expressing herself -- in the voices of dead singers like those listed above. Ray sees the Brit equivalent of dollar signs and LV is forced onto the stage.
But LV doesn't want to be on stage, she sings only to please a nostalgic image of daddy. Let the film students get into all the psychological aspects of this, Cranky tips his hat to screenwriter/director Mark Herman who, as he did with last year's Brassed Off, delivers a dynamite flick. Small characters and small lives, all dreaming the big dream. Well written and well acted, Little Voice is the kind of flick that easily gets lost in the Oscar® wannabe crowd.
Except that Jane Horrocks performance, recreated from her stage role, is damned spot on mesmerizing. Michael Caine, who has done the greaser role as a comedic turn in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels nails the role from the first word. And Brenda Blethyn creates just as transfixing a character this year as she did in Secrets and Lies last year. Topping it all off is Ewan McGregor in what may be his last normal role (you do know he's about to make the leap to superstardom as Obi-Wan Kenobi in next year's Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, don't you?).
At any other time of the year, Little Voice would be a more than solid $7 on Cranky's scale. But this isn't any other time of the year . . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Little Voice, he would have paid...
Oscar nomination level almost across the board: Horrocks, Caine, Blethyn, and Herman all make Cranky's "best of" end of year list. As far as films for grownups go, Little Voice is a most captivating and enjoyable tale.
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