Billy Elliot

View Date: November 11th, 2000

Cast :

Jamie Bell   Billy Elliot
Julie Walters   Mrs. Wilkinson
Jamie Draven   Tony Elliot
Gary Lewis   Jackie Elliot (Dad)
Jean Heywood   Grandma
Stuart Wells   Michael

Writer: Lee Hall 

Director: Stephen Daldry 

The more a movie relates to a feeling or desire deep inside us, the more of an effect it will have on our acceptance of it as a successful form of art.  For example, a movie that inspires us, or makes us feel good, in a realistic manner will tend to leave us with a more lasting impression than one that is unrealistic or depressing.  Billy Elliot is a tale of a desire to fit in, and be yourself, regardless of societal expectations and standards.  The tale is told with little fanfare, or excessive manipulation of our emotions, by remaining honest, straightforward and true to those deepest human desires and emotions that exist inside all of us.  While it does stretch its point out a bit much, the movie still succeeds in capturing the true nature of human spirit, and personifies the dream to be who you want to be, and to be the best at it, while focusing on the effects that this can have on those who care about you the most.

The storyline, while simple and basic, is lined with subtle undertones that support the story instead of distracting from it.  Elliot is a young boy growing up with his father and brother, in a British mining town.  The father and brother are both employed by the mine, whose workers are in the midst of a nasty labor dispute.  This dispute affects every aspect of the townspeople’s lives, effectively dividing the townspeople.  This conflict mirrors the film’s message, by showing the battle between the ugliness of the strike, and beauty of the ballet, showing that society can coexist with both natural beauty, and natural ugliness, and that sometimes they are necessary and dependant upon one another.  Amidst all of this, young Billy discovers that the macho sport of boxing may not be his best career or hobby choice, and ends up taking ballet lessons from a matronly dance teacher who is sharing the gymnasium where the boxing training is being done.  As can be expected, the decision to do ballet does not go over well in his testosterone-laden household.  Once this is established, the story becomes a tale of growing up, focusing on the stresses and struggles of growing up amidst the struggle to exist and dealing with adolescent changes; trying to balance all of these into a mind that may not be prepared to deal with it all yet. Having lost his mother, the story becomes a battle wanting to live up to his mother’s dreams and father’s gender-based expectations.  The film takes us on the journey of Elliot’s discovery, sometimes lingering too much and taking a bit too long to tell things (in typical British style), this conversely helps and hurts the film, by allowing a deeper look at each character, while still dragging things a bit longer than need be.  The emotional power of the film, while expected, is not enhanced by the extended character development, but is also not hurt by the fact that we know these people well enough to relate in the films conclusion.

Like the film itself, the performances are all subdued, understated, yet amazing upon final reflection.   The keys are not necessarily in individual standouts, but rather the chemistry between the performers.  The best example of this chemistry is between Jamie Bell (Billy) and Julie Walters, as Elliott’s mentor/teacher, all throughout the film; Elliot is lacking the maternal instinct due to the death of his mother, but is driven by a letter from her.  The reading of this, and the requisite dance scene (done to a song called “We Like To Boogie” I believe) are truly magical moments, made better by the believable of the performances.  The entire cast fits into their roles with a familial ease and perfection, lending even more strength, validity and power to the overall effect of the film. 

Ultimately, Billy Elliot is an uplifting and inspirational tale about following your dream and staying true to who and what you are.  This tale, in some form, has been told numerous times, but Daldry adds the definitive British touch of patience and character development.  He paces the movie to near perfection, not bogging it down with excessive plot lines or stories while still successfully delivering his message.  There are no lead pipe cinches in Hollywood, but stories like this one, involving underdogs, and overcoming obstacles, come as close as you can.  They can be messed up, and this one flirts, by over telling certain parts of the story, but for the most part, it works without shamelessly milking tear ducts like most movies of this type do.  The closest movie I can relate this to is October Sky , if you liked that one, give this one a chance as well.  You will feel good, you will cheer, and in the process you may actually gain a new respect for dancers, ballet, single parent families and mine workers. ($$$ out of $$$$)

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