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"Billy Elliot"

Directed by Stephen Daldry.
Written by Lee Hall.
Starring Jamie Bell.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  12/6/00


Following on the tails of the DC club review (and, it being a very slow week for new films), I decided to hit a film that had been out for a while and that was somewhat related to dancing.

So, how about a film concerning a young boy's love of the ballet?

“Billy Elliot” was a film that I had heard a lot of good things about from friends that are “in the know”, so I figured that it would make a good choice to bridge the gap between some of the great films of October and November, and the Christmas period where some of the big films will be hitting the multiplex.  And, its premise is hilarious:  an adolescent named Billy is pushed into boxing by his father...but, from watching some of the ballet practices that take place in the same gym where he spars with other kids, Billy's true love comes out and he pursues a career in the ballet!

I tried to imagine myself as Billy for a minute before seeing this movie.  I wondered how bad my guy friends would have roughed me up knowing that in my spare time, I was a dancer.  I remembered when I was in high school, and it was in the early 90s that schools had just started to regularly employ the male cheerleader.  Man, did those guys have it rough when I was in high school!  I mean, there may have been a great game going on between two great high school basketball teams...but, all the crowd could chant was “MALE CHEERLEADER!  [bang, bang, bang-bang-bang!]” in this hiss that clearly flustered opposing male cheerleaders.  Although those guys could probably outbench every peon in the stands, he was doing something that, up till that point, was traditionally female.  Of course, nowadays, every school in the whole world has male cheerleaders, so this isn't as funny if you just got out of high school.

But, what IS funny is the least, for a while.  Soon after Billy discovers that ballet (pronounced “bally” by the movie's United Kingdom characters) is his true passion, his dad and his estranged older brother—both of whom are striking against the mine corporation that employs them when the film opens—questioned the boy's manhood and his lack of desire for other traditionally-male activities like football and hockey.  The look on Billy's dad's face when he sees him dancing instead of pummeling other kids in the boxing ring is absolutely is his line when they get home:

“F***in' bally?  Whaterya doin', Billy?”

In fact, all of the first hour of this film is very, very good...the characters are all very well done, and Billy, as a character, is a marvel and a fresh take on what kids are these days, since most of the movies I see portray white kids as straight ghetto and in love with hip-hop culture, no matter what city they are from.  (Odd, isn't it?  the MTV generation...)  There is lots of drama to be found amongst the main characters, including Billy's dance instructor and a couple of the girls in his ballet class.  The scene where Billy and one of the girls are walking down a street and at one point, stroll right along a wall of riot police, is both funny and chilling in a way that few movies achieve.  (Note that the movie is rated “R” because of the constant use of the F word during the film, so there is a lot of profanity in this one, too!)

But, the middle of this movie got a little slow as the story focused some more on the father and Billy's brother, and got away from how much Billy loved to dance.  This was the point where I started to doze off as I waited to see more of Billy.  And, this is the point where the movie's initial build-up started to wear off for me.  Even a strong finale could not bring back what the first hour had done for me and besides the movie's lack of focus at the midway point, there were a couple of wasted opportunities for the movie to achieve true greatness.  The most notable of these comes as Billy tries to convince a special committee that he should be accepted into a more advanced dance program, and the movie almost eerily gets quiet as Billy is posed a question by one of the committee members:

“Billy, one last question:  what is it, exactly, that you love about dancing?”

And, it is that Oscar moment, the one where all nominees get to shine in a role that already has lots of shining to it.  One of my favorite examples of this is the scene in “Unforgiven” where Clint is out on the plains explaining to a young cowboy that “everyone's got it comin', kid.”  Or, the scene in “American Beauty” last year where Spacey is working at the fast-food restaurant, and his cheating wife has just driven up to the drive-thru window with her new trick, and he gets to deliver that verbal beat-down.  Or, that final courtroom speech by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”, where he is yelling out “You can't HANDLE the truth!”  The writers really wasted this moment in “Billy Elliot”, as Billy answered weakly about how he didn't quite know exactly what is was about dancing that he liked.  He gives an answer so forgettable that even today, 24 hours after seeing the film with my friend Carrie “Spades” Booker, I can't remember what he says in response.  Wasted!

It is moments like these that I think sum up how I felt upon leaving the theater.  Like Norv Turner said on his way out of Redskin Park on Monday after being fired as coach of the Redskins, “There is not much that separates wins and losses in the NFL.”  In movies, it takes only a few brief moments to separate the good films and the dogs, and I think that “Billy Elliot” missed out by just a little on its way to greatness.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09