In the tradition of The Full Monty and Brassed Off, director Stephen Daldry delivers a bittersweet comedy about struggling against all odds to realize the impossible. Wait a minute…isn’t that what every movie is about? Exactly. Which is why Billy Elliot is such a remarkable film. With the simplest and most cliched story structure in film, Billy Elliot still manages to thoroughly entertain, evoking laughter and tears, surprisingly without a whole lot of whankiness.
Set against the backdrop of a miners’ strike in Northern England, Billy Elliot tells the story of an eleven-year-old Billy (Jamie Bell) who, while training to box at the local athletic club, finds himself drawn to Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters)’s ballet class.
Secretly, Billy spends the fifty pence allotted for his boxing class on dance lessons. Mrs. Wilkinson quickly recognizes the potential in Billy and trains him privately. The strike conditions worsen as Billy’s father (Gary Lewis) and brother Tony (Jamie Draven) discover Billy’s secret. Needless to say, all hell breaks loose. But when they accidentally happen upon Billy dancing, they are amazed at his abilities. The community rallies around the lad, raising the money to send him to an audition at the prestigious Royal Ballet Academy.
In fact, Billy Elliot works so well because of powerfully funny and realistic dialogue, committed performances from the cast (notably Gary Lewis, Julie Walters and young Jamie Bell) and an inherent love of the subject matter (shot beautifully in a brilliant tap dance assault to The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice.”) The movie falters only because Daldry dwells too long in scenes where, given the archetypal (or hackneyed) storyline, the audience already understands the emotional impact of the situation. The untrimmed fat notwithstanding, Billy Elliot is a heartwarming delight.