Billy Elliot

It is almost cold and calculated the way that some directors manipulate audience emotions in some movies. They crank up the feelings until everybody feels like crying at the end. When it doesn't work, the film as a whole suffers. The audience feels the manipulation and the entire film has a fake feeling. When it works, like in Billy Elliot, it works well. Veteran British theater director and first time film director Stephen Aldry weaves together a touching and funny story about a young boy learning ballet. It's 1984, and there is a miners' strike in Northern England. Young Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is caught in the middle. His father (Gary Lewis, My Name is Joe, The Match) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven, Everybody Loves Sunshine) go out each day to yell at the strikebreakers, waiting desperately for the strike to end.

Billy takes boxing lessons at the local gym, but he isn't terribly good. Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters, Titanic Town, Intimate Relations) shares the gym to teach ballet to little girls. Billy notices this, and soon is taking ballet. Billy's father find out and promptly forbids him to continue. Of course, Billy continues in secret, practicing to his brother's T. Rex records and getting better each day. Mrs. Wilkinson thinks he is good enough to try out for the Royal Ballet Company, and encourages him to do so. However, Billy is still afraid of his father, an imposing man. It is a simple story by Lee Hall, and this is what makes it work. Everybody can relate to it somehow. It is not just a story about Billy, it is the story of his father. Dad (yep, that's how he's listed in the credits) is trying as hard as he can to raise his sons. His wife died, and he currently is out of work. He is dumbstruck by the fact that his son would rather take ballet than box. He has a very old-fashioned idea about what boys should do and what girls should do. But underneath it all, he still loves Billy dearly. The only element out of place in Billy Elliot is a small subplot about a gay boy hitting on Billy. Aldry and Hall handle it well, but it seems a little too odd to belong in this one.

Billy is just so darn likable. He has a crooked smile and an earnest nature that makes it impossible not to like him. It is exhilarating watching his sheer joy in simply dancing down the street. At the same time, Hall and Aldry give heartbreaking moments, in particular when Mrs. Wilkinson reads a letter by Billy's long-deceased mother. Bell delivers a strong performance for a fresh face, anchoring Billy Elliot with his portrayal. Lewis is superb as Dad. His portrayal is of a man nearly at the end of his temper, always ready to explode. Mrs. Wilkinson serves as a second mother and friend to Billy. Walter's reluctance slowly turns into warmth. Aldry alternates the mood between gentle humor and tear-inducing moments. The jokes come at just the right times, breaking up some tense moments, but they are not "too much;" they don't take away the power of the scene. Hall is clever enough to make it nearly impossible to guess what happens to Billy. It's a great feeling watching a film and going with it without knowing exactly where it will end up. It's also good knowing that regardless of what happens to Billy, people will cry at the end at and it will be well worth the wait.

Mongoose Rates It: Really Good.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated R for language.

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