Stephen Daldry's BILLY ELLIOT, originally titled DANCER, can be thought of
as an English working-class version of FLASHDANCE but without any of the
latter's glitz and production numbers. Telling the story of an 11-year-old
boy named Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) who cuts his boxing lessons in favor of
ballet lessons with a bunch of girls in frilly tutus, the movie is a somber
production that could stand to lighten up a bit. Set against the grim
background of a miners' strike in which his dad (Gary Lewis) and brother
(Jamie Draven) are participating, the movie wants to be as much a morality
play as a dance movie. And, of course, its surroundings will remind viewers
of the setting for THE FULL MONTY.
Without his father's knowledge, Billy begins to spend his 50 pence not on
boxing lessons for which they were intended on a ballet class run by the
tough, chain-smoking and sarcastic Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). After
asking her piano player to play "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow," she
remarks, "Fat Chance!" She almost immediately recognizes Billy's raw
talent, figuring that he would make a prime candidate for the Royal Ballet
The problem with the movie's choreography is that Billy, as he hams it up
dancing and jumping around, is so awkward that it's hard for us to recognize
the abilities that his teacher sees. Moreover, his prancing around, which
makes up large portions of the story, isn't that compelling. It's rather
like watching your neighbor's kids hamming it up in the living room. Most
of the picture has the boy leaping about joyously but stiffly. These are
heartfelt moments but not particularly convincing ones.
Set in a dirt-poor area of County Durham in Northern England in 1984, the
accents are so thick that you could cut them with a knife and so
unintelligible at times that you'll wish that the picture had subtitles.
The authentic dialog features the F-word in just about every sentence. It's
a depressing tale with the inevitable light at the end of the tunnel, which
is another of the film's problems. No matter how depressingly bleak the
situation, the story follows too predictable an arc. The widower father is
a completely angry caricature until, late in the picture, he makes the
miraculous conversion that you can see coming a mile away.
The early scene in which the father first finds out that his son has been
spending the family's little disposable money on ballet lessons is dramatic.
Looking so red that he might ignite at any moment, he lectures his son,
"Lads do boxing, and football, and wrestling, not friggin' ballet."
The supporting characters are little more than stick figures, which leaves
the boy alone to carry the movie. The young actor does his best, and,
whereas we certainly root for his character, the movie is just too formulaic
to be able to recommend it.
BILLY ELLIOT runs 1:40. It is rated R for language and would be acceptable
for teenagers. Younger than that is the parent's call, but since it was
rated R only for language, we allowed our son to give it a try as he wanted
to. After all, it is a dancing movie about a boy his age.
My son Jeffrey, age 11, didn't like much about the movie and gave it * 1/2.
He found the dialog hard to follow and felt the story got strained at
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes