Let me be upfront about this. I didn’t pick Billy Elliot this week because I thought I’d get much of a new perspective on the now decade-old work. The film is wonderful. Always has been for me. It’s rare to find a movie more geared to my personal tastes. Character-based drama, small-town story, coming-of-age plot, mildly quirky Britishness, apt but not heavy-handed political metaphors, an art-can-save-the-world message, and dance sequences. It reignited Julie Walters’ career, brought Jamie Bell to the world’s attention and led to a major onstage hit when Elton John converted it into a musical. Most importantly to me, it was a major jumpstart for a new and extremely talented director, Stephen Daldry, who with his first movie was nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, and has been nominated for the same award for his following two films, The Hours and The Reader. As far as I’m concerned, Daldry is three for three, his best being Billy and his worst being The Hours, but that’s only to say that one is a “B+” while the other two get an “A.”
I could have watched Rod Lurie’s The Contender instead. It’s a film I liked but didn’t love, and I’m certain it would hold a certain political weight in regards to the country’s current political climate. But…meh.
I think I just wanted to give myself a present, a big British hug of a movie, to celebrate the completely inconsequential fact that I’ve kept this project running for over five months now (23 weeks to be exact). I didn’t take any notes, I wasn’t really looking for anything I missed the first time around, and since I don’t really want to listen to the musical’s soundtrack until I see this show performed (it’ll be here at the Paramount in late March), I obviously couldn’t examine the adaptation process from screen to stage.
So thank you for following the project so far. I’m sorry I didn’t put on my analyst hat, but that’s really not what the project is about anyway. Sometimes you just have to reward yourself.
Okay, fine. I did have a few thoughts.
- The one focus I tried to put onto my viewing was at the direction itself, because even though I know how great the movie is, it was a surprise to see Daldry nominated for a film that didn’t even capture a nomination for Best Picture. (He stole it from Lase Hallström. And rightfully so. It’s painful to recall that Chocolat was nominated for Best Picture over the likes of this, Almost Famous, Wonder Boys and Quills, to name a few.) What defines Daldry’s tactic, at least in this film, is how swiftly the story moves along and how much ground it covers, and with such a small budget. And considering it’s such a touching story, there’s only one moment I would characterize as mawkish.
- I used to think Julie Walters overplayed her mentor role a bit, but now I see how much love she gives the character, and I’m kind of shocked at how well it came across this time around.
- Ten years ago, I was mostly unfamiliar with the classic rock used in this film, so now I have a greater appreciation with how well it’s used to enhance the time, place and emotions so well. I know that sounds like what a soundtrack is supposed to do, but really sit down and pay attention to an average American mainstream film and you’ll notice how horribly most songs are used. Songs have lyrics, asshole, not to mention volumes worth of connotations to each and every one of us.
- Yeah, I’m going to complain about this film having received an R-rating, just because it allows its characters to swear like they would in real life. I understand there’s an edited-down PG-13 version, to which I say, “Eat my ass.”
- This may not sound like it means much, but it does to me: Billy Elliot as a character is a genuinely good person. Think about how often you actually see a genuinely good person as a character in a film. Most characters strive to be something, but as is the nature of drama, their internal and external conflicts get in the way. But here, instead of taking the entire movie learning how to be a good person, he begins the movie that way, and the plot is instead him finding how to take his goodness and apply it to the rest of the world. And outside of a couple of entirely justified outbursts, he’s a completely reasonable human being. Even when his father breaks his widow’s cherished piano for kindling, Billy stokes the fire. When his best friend comes out in a admittedly awkward fashion, Billy handles the situation with complete respect. And when he makes one giant mistake, punching the boy at the ballet academy, he immediately knows that he has done wrong. It’s just refreshing. You can make drama without all the characters being assholes. This is a story about how amidst all the darkness, all the hate, all the suffering that befalls us, a beautiful flower can still rise up between the cracks in the asphalt.
- My favorite line this time around? “I don’t want a childhood. I want to be a ballet dancer.”