Stephen Daldry (2000, Universal Pictures)
Starring Julie Walters, Jamie Bell, Gary Lewis, and Nicola
A boy pursues his dreams of dance against a backdrop of a
struggling working-class family.
June 23rd, 2001 on Video
A nice, quiet tale of a boy struggling against odds that seem impossible at first, but end up being quite ordinary. The movie was a little slow for my tastes, though some of the strike scenes had a lot of energy.
The plot of this movie can be summarized very quickly, I think. Billy loves to dance, and hates to box, but dancing is not a manly thing, so his father makes him box instead. But he starts taking ballet when he is supposed to be boxing, finds out that he is really good at it, but then his father finds out, so his dream is shattered. But when he gets a chance to try out for the Royal Ballet in London, his father sees a chance to make a better life, so gains the cash to take him. And in a final scene that doesn't really have too much suspense, we find out that he has
indeed made it.
The actor playing Billy was pretty good, though not great. He gave a lot of energy when he was dancing, showing that he absolutely loves to dance. When he boxes, he ends up with a black eye. He has a friend Michael, who is a gay transvestite, but Billy doesn't care about the boy's strangeness (even after he answers the door in his sister's dress, which was absolutely hilarious, for the scene itself and for Billy's reaction. Not to mention the line "my father does it all the time..."). Billy shows Michael his dancing, and the other boy really appreciates it.
The dance coach sees something special in Billy, and she goes out of her middle-class way to visit the boy's father, and ask him (though she won't resort to pleading) to let Billy continue with his lessons and the big audition. Billy's father is strangely silent, and he shows a side that he would rather not show -that he doesn't feel fulfilled by his life as a miner.
For the miners are on strike, and they are really violent towards the scabs who cross the picket line. This backdrop often rudely forced itself upon us, as a violent counterpoint to Billy's quest. Billy misses the audition because his brother is sent to jail for vandalism while picketing. So when Billy's father sees a chance for his son to make a living in the arts, he reluctantly and ashamedly crosses the picket line himself. In a very touching scene, Billy's father breaks down in front of his older son while he is convinced to abort his scab work before he starts it.
Billy gets his chance to try out for the Royal Ballet in London, and although his dance goes well, his interview does not. But after investing all this time in Billy's story, were we really expected to believe that he wouldn't make it? If the audition had
occurred in the middle of the story, perhaps, but not after two long hours.
And the hours were quite long for my taste. The actor portraying Billy was, as I said, energetic when he was dancing, especially in the scene where he angrily dances for his father after being discovered. However, the rest of the time, he was almost completely without emotion. Most of the time, he walked around like a zombie. Even in the three instances where he should have shown emotion (his visit to Michael's, as mentioned, when Debbie, the dance teacher's daughter makes several advances on him, and when he was asked about how he felt while he danced), he normally replies with a lackluster "I dunno...", which displayed his confusion at life, but was rather annoying to watch. He was pretty good when erupting in anger, though, as at his father.
There were some funny bits to this movie, as well, which relieved some of the tedium. Normally they
occurred with respect to the mining strike, though, and seemed rather disconnected from the rest of the movie. There were some touching scenes, too, between father and son, and between Billy and his dance teacher. But it was strange that he barely said two words to her after his father decided to take him to London. Barely a thanks for teaching him, and her reaction looked like she felt betrayed. Maybe she wasn't doing it for her own self worth, as Billy's brother said, but surely she must have wanted to stand by his side at the Royal Ballet. And I think she had a right to feel betrayed.
I definitely enjoyed a lot of this movie, but it moved too slowly, few of the characters showed any passion for life, and the mining strike provided an odd contrast between the A and B plots. Recommended for those who enjoy a pure drama movie. For myself, I'm getting tired of these types and plan to lay off them for a while.