by Collin Souter
Billy Elliot has everything a true crowd-pleaser should have. It has an incredibly likable and charismatic protagonist, a sympathetic antagonist, great suspense, moments of high hilarity, and an adventurous spirit that I found positively dazzling. If this movie doesn’t (I hate saying this) warm your heart, make you laugh, or leave you feeling at all exhilarated by the time the credits roll, I recommend a job for you in the coalmines.Billy Elliot takes place in mid-80’s England during a labor strike. The movie tells the story of (who else?) Billy Elliot and his family, consisting of his father, Jacky (Gary Lewis), his teenage brother, Tony (Jamie Draven), and their grandmother. Billy’s father and brother have been out of work as a result of the strike, but the story gets into that a little later. Billy, an 11-year-old schoolboy, goes to his boxing lessons every day, but feels compelled to go to the other side of the gym where the girls take ballet classes.
"A movie that takes chances, entertains and soars"
Pretty soon, Billy trades his boxing gloves for dancing shoes and tries to be inconspicuous about his newfound passion. He hides his ballet shoes under his bed, steals a how-to book about ballet dancing from the library, and practices his dance moves in the bathroom. His father and brother learn of his interests and, of course, tell him, “No more!” Billy’s instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), encourages Billy and keeps his dream of becoming a dancer alive by giving him private lessons and setting him up for auditions behind his father’s back.
Make no mistake. This movie does not consist of boring ballet dance sequences. On the contrary, these dance scenes have as much excitement and innovation as anything you have seen in Riverdance. Part of what makes them so exciting has to do with the fact that they come at crucial moments in Billy’s story. They serve as an emotional release when he feels the walls closing in. For some, it will bring to mind Kevin Bacon (or, rather, his stunt double) in Footloose, except here, it works, and we don’t laugh as a result.
That reminds me, the young actor here, Jamie Bell, could very well upstage Haley Joel Osment as a young Oscar hopeful. I see no reason why this boy should not be nominated alongside the big heavyweights (Michael Douglas, Tom Hanks, Robert DeNiro). He handles each dramatic scene with the same precision and grace as he does with his dance scenes. He may well be the best child actor I’ve seen since Eamonn Owens in the underrated The Butcher Boy.
I also have to commend the movie on its daring sub-plot involving Billy’s sexually confused best friend, Michael (Stuart Wells). At first, the film plays it for laughs when Billy comes to Michael’s house and finds Michael dressing up in his mother’s clothes. As the film progresses, we see a genuine love grow between Billy and Michael, which does not result in anything uncomfortable, mean-spirited or forbidden, just a kind of un-spoken pact of mutual love and understanding between them.
At one point in the film, I thought I knew where the story would go. Billy and Michael go to the gym late one night. Billy teaches Michael some dance steps. One of Billy’s father’s friend’s witnesses this and brings Billy’s father over to watch. I thought, “Oh, no. Don’t tell me we’re going into a homophobia sub-plot. This is going to get violent and unpleasant, isn’t it?” Thankfully, the writers turned the other way and took the story to another level, while keeping it grounded in its central story and central characters. This movie has to do with a father and son, nothing more, nothing less.
Like Almost Famous, Billy Elliot earns every one of its sentiments and emotions without getting overly manipulative or preachy (like, say Pay It Forward). You may end up seeing it more than once, bringing friends along who normally would have gone to see Bagger Vance or Meet The Parents for the 3rd time. Unfortunately, many people won’t see it. I find it frustrating when I tell someone about a movie and they ask, “Who’s in it?”
“Well, nobody, but it’s really great.”
“Uh-huh. You know, I really want to see that new Matt Damon movie.”
“Don’t. It’s terrible.”
“Yeah, but I like him.”People, please. Take a chance on Billy Elliot. You won’t be disappointed. No actors got paid $20 million to sign on. You get some good action scenes involving riots. You get moments of high comedy every bit as funny as anything in Meet The Parents. You may feel the lump in your throat at the end of the film that Pay It Forward tried desperately to give you (Billy does not get stabbed, just so you know.) And you may actually cheer at all the film’s victories.
Name the last movie that gave you all of that.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4464&reviewer=233
originally posted: 02/18/01 19:32:39