Billy Elliot’s Brilliance into Ballet

For my next critique, I’ll be tackling the Stephen Daldry 2000 movie, “Billy Elliot”, which is about an 11 year old boy who has quite an unusual talent for his time. Set around the 1984 coal mining strike in rural England, it was one of British actor Jamie Bell’s first roles, and paved the way for a Broadway and West End musical, with music scripted by the legendary singer Elton John.

Jamie Bell stars as the titular Billy, a prepubescent youngster who lives in the mining town of Durham in the mid 1980’s. Billy lives with his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven), who both value their traditional, masculine backgrounds in the coal industry and his forgetful grandmother (Jean Heywood), with his mother having passed away a year earlier. With Jackie and Tony participating in a mining strike picket, the police have to be called in to restore some semblance of order to the community.

Billy keeps busy by taking boxing lessons in the local hall, but he proves to be less than stellar in the sport. Following a mediocre boxing lesson, he is cajoled into joining in on a ballet class taught by Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). There, he finds that ballet awakens an inexplicable need in him,  and so he begins to attend the class in secret, for some time at least. Eventually, an enraged Jackie finds out about Billy’s less than masculine extracurricular activity, and orders him to be pulled from the class. But can Billy deny his dancing dreams, or do greater pursuits beckon in his future instead?

The performances from all the actors are all superb. I simply can’t fault a single one of them for how authentic and natural they felt. Bell is excellent as the quietly determined Billy, the always fantastic Julie Walters is on top form in an Oscar nominated role as the encouraging dance coach, and Lewis and Draven are also decent in their roles as Billy’s initially distant father and brother, and Stuart Wells serves well as Michael, Billy’s best friend who is harbouring a secret of his own!

The story is propped with an array of memorable scenes, from the opening shot of Billy jumping on a trampoline in midair to the strains of T-Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer”, or Billy letting out some steam to the Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”. My own personal favourite scene comes about towards the end of the movie, where Billy is questioned about what dancing feels like. His response is simply heartfelt, and it inspired what is perhaps the musical’s most recognizable song, “Electricity”.

“Billy Elliot”, is possibly one of the best British movies that I’ve had the pleasure of viewing. I used to watch it devoutly as a child, and Billy’s struggle to remain true to himself despite the adversity from his family resonated with me, as I’m sure it has for others. In fact, Elton John himself was inspired to write the music for the stage show as he related to Billy’s fraught relationship with his father, since it was similar to the one he had with his own.

“Billy Elliot” earns a grand total of five out of five stars. It offers a brilliant takeaway message of perseverance in regards to your dreams or ambitions, and to never give up, no matter how fruitless and impossible it may seem, as it just might pay off in the end. Plus, I’d recommend checking out the musical show if you loved the film, Elton John, or if you simply love musical theatre which has catchy songs and valuable messages, then it might just be up your alley!


What a Bad Feeling I have about “Flashdance”

One thing I mainly expect when I watch a movie or a TV show is to be able to root for someone. Even if the protagonist is a bit of a jerk, or an anti-hero at best, there’s usually always a redeemable quality to them that makes you want them to succeed in their goals. But when the principal character doesn’t come off as a jerk per se, they seem to be so unlikely that you never really forge a connection with them. They remain as a sort of a caricature of sorts, so that you never really feel as though you know them as a person.

That’s the main problem I had with the main character of Adrian Lyne’s 1983 dance flick,”Flashdance”, Alex Owens (Jennifer Beals). She’s an 18 year old aspiring dancer who works as a welder in a steel mill during the day, but at night moonlights as an erotic dancer in a local bar, Mawby’s.

The film chronicles Alex’s goal to audition for a prestigious dance school in Pittsburgh,as she as promised her elderly mentor, Hanna (Lilia Skala) she would, as well as her blossoming relationship with Nick Hurley (Michael Nouri), her recently divorced boss at the steel mill. Alex is determined to follow her dreams, but does she have what it takes?

As much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t have an entertaining time while watching “Flashdance”. While I did enjoy some of the songs (notably, the title song “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” by Irene Cara), Jennifer Beals’ engaging and hopeful central performance as Alex, and her sentimental friendship with Hanna, I didn’t like how some of the running time would be taken up with endless dance sequences, and it didn’t really spend time developing Alex’s character. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Alex seemed to be an unbelievable character to me. Ironic, I know, since the movie was based on the true story of Maureen Marder, a steel mill worker whose story played out similar to Alex’s.

I also found the romance between Alex and Nick to be rather lacking in depth. To be fair, this might have been in part because of the age difference between the actors (Beals being 18 and Nouri 36 during filming). As they both spent almost all of their scenes together berating and screaming at each other constantly, I eventually reached the point where I couldn’t have cared less if they got together in the end, as they both seemed to make each other more miserable than content, which doesn’t exactly make you want to see two characters such as these together.

Renowned film critic Roger Ebert infamously slammed “Flashdance”, likening it to “a ninety minute music video” and placing it on his “Most Hated Films” List. I’m inclined to agree with Ebert on this one. I know some people may enjoy this dance movie, but I wasn’t one of them, and I’m giving “Flashdance” only two and a half stars out of five.