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Billy Elliot

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Harvey Karten read the review ---
3.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

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 School.

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 several points.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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