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Billy Elliot

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Billy Elliot

Starring: Julie Walters, Jamie Bell
Director: Stephen Daldry
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: October 2000
Genres: Comedy, Drama


*Also starring: Jamie Draven, Gary Lewis, Jean Heywood, Stuart Wells, Nicola Blackwell



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Did you hear the one about the macho coal miner whose young son wanted to be a ballet dancer? You did? Of course. Stephen Daldry tells it again in his new movie "Billy Elliot," but he relates the story in a fresh way, avoiding the rah-rah American style that inhabits movies like "Bring It On" and "Strictly Ballroom." "Billy Elliot," which was featured at this year's Toronto Film Festival and received a warm welcome at the recent showing at Cannes, comes on the heels of a similar, more commercial offering, Dein Perry's feature "Bootmen" about a tap-happy dancer in Australia.

The eponymous Billy, played by Jamie Bell in a startling yet understated performance as a gifted but oddballish 11- year-old, is one of two sons of a striking coal miner (Gary Lewis), a widowed man living in a working-class Northern English town near Newcastle. Discovering that his lad is secretly taking ballet lessons and is in fact the only male in a class of even younger girls led by chain-smoking Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters), his eyes glare fiercely and his entire heads turns russet. While dad insists that Billy spend his spare time taking boxing in the local gym and is backed by his other son, Tony (Jamie Draven), Billy gets strong support from the idiosyncratic teacher who stands up to the older man and encourages Billy to do the same.

Would you be surprised if the most unlikely person ultimately becomes Billy's chief defender? Of course not. But as Roger Ebert always says, it's not the "what" of a story; it's the "how." Stephen Daldry directs Lee Hall's screenplay determined to show the eccentric and loveable characteristics of the community, such as the boy's senile grandmother (Jean Heywood) who states during two of her clearer moments "I could have been a professional dancer" with the melancholy determination of a Marlon Brando, and extracts a particularly comic performance from Gary Lewis--whose glistened eyes and inflamed features summon a blend of Kevin Costner and Ben Gazzara.

While most of the movie's dispatch lies in a study of contrasting and conflicting wills, "Bill Elliot" comes to exhilarating life at one point when Billy and her teacher, alone in the large gymnasium, let themselves go with a bopping, if awkwardly-danced jazz duet. To demonstrate the beginning of Billy's sexual coming of age, Daldry places Billy into several scenes with the assertively precocious little ballerina, Debbie (Nicola Blackwell), who, in the midst of a feather- scattering pillow fight feel strange emotions that stops them dead in their tracks in wonder. Daldry broadens the action by alternating scenes of Billy's growing affinity for the art form with panoramas of a bitter, year-long strike between the coal miners--most of whom had probably never traveled to London--kept in line by a contingent of local police in full riot gear who protect a growing number of scabs crossing the lines by bus. The film is effectively framed with a show- stopping scene of Billy joyfully jumping up and down to slow- motion camerawork. A memorable soundtrack adds luster to this little gem of a movie.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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