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With: Jamie Bell, Jean Heywood, Jamie Draven, Gary Lewis, Stuart Wells, Mike Elliot, Billy Fane, Nicola Blackwell, Julie Walters, Carol McGuigan, Joe Renton, Colin MacLachlan, Janine Birkett, Trevor Fox, Charlie Hardwick
Written by: Lee Hall
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 111
Date: 05/19/2000
IMDB

Billy Elliot (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Gotta Dance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Billy Elliot features an extraordinary performance by Jamie Bell as the title character, the son of a poor English miner and wants to become a ballet dancer. At one point, a character refers to him as "our little Gene Kelly," but by that time I had already been thinking the same thing myself.

Bell, 13 years old in real life, is a real dancer, and is capable of furious muscular dances like Gene Kelly's, as well as delicate, graceful dances like Fred Astaire's. The movie has several dancing scenes, divided up into two categories. The graceful scenes are shown as realistic, taking place within the confines of the grim reality of the small mining town. But the jubilant dances are given a wonderful, welcome, un-reality in which Billy Elliot can truly express himself without fear of reproach. It's these scenes that make Billy Elliot a keeper for me.

It begins with a wonderful title sequence. Billy gingerly takes his brother's T. Rex Electric Warrior record from its sleeve, chooses "Cosmic Dancer," and joyfully commences not bouncing, but leaping up and down on his bed. We soon learn that Billy lives with his senile grandmother (who tells us over and over that she "could have been a dancer"), and his father and older brother, who are miners on strike. Billy's mother has been dead some time, and he plunks away at the piano that used to be hers.

Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Lee Hall choose to set Billy's story (which is entirely fictional, by the way, even though it feels like a "true story") in the middle of all this English strife that we've seen a million times before. They want to have it both ways. They want us to feel excited about the dancing but also empathy toward the poor striking miners. On that note, the movie fails to rise above the old cliche. It tries to be Ken Loach (Land and Freedom and My Name Is Joe) but falls far short of its goal.

I also found myself wishing that Billy's father (played by Gary Lewis, from, coincidentally, My Name Is Joe) had been developed a bit more. I can understand his conundrum. He's a poor English miner who is looking at the sad prospect of his son growing up to become yet another miner. But on the other hand, he's an old fashioned male who winces at the idea of his son prancing around in a tutu. The movie can't quite get these two sides into conflict with each other. It spends half the movie on one, and suddenly flips over to the other during the course of one scene.

This is all small potatoes, though. Billy Elliot is enchanting, and I had a very good time. (My wife loved it unabashedly.) I was expecting it to be in the school of The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine; fluffy, lightweight charmers with solid entertainment sensibilities. Billy Elliot tries to be more, and though it doesn't always succeed, still retains that old school value of giving us a real show.

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