Sunday, 13 October 2019

Movie Review: Booby Deerfield (1977)

A romantic drama, Bobby Deerfield is a slow story about love blooming between a racing driver and a dying woman.

In Europe, Bobby Deerfield (Al Pacino) is an American driver on the elite Formula 1 motor racing circuit. Both he and his team are shocked when a fiery race accident claims the life of his teammate. He demands to know the cause of the crash prior to the next race, while his long-time girlfriend Lydia (Anny Duperey) tries to provide comfort.

Bobby heads off to visit Karl Holtzmann, another driver hurt in the wreck and now recuperating. At the hospital he meets the free spirited Lillian Morelli (Marthe Keller), who appears to be a patient but hitches a ride out with Bobby. On the long drive they get to know each other. She talks a lot and asks many questions, while he is reserved and subdued. Nevertheless a romance blossoms as Bobby prepares for his next race.

Although supposedly set in the world of car racing, Bobby Deerfield's profession may as well be watching wait paint dry. Neither the Alvin Sargent script, adapting the book Heaven Has No Favorites by Erich Maria Remarque, nor director Sydney Pollack appear to have a clue as to how to make use of the sport as a backdrop. So the entire motor racing subtext is reduced to three short and frantic scenes, two of which appear remarkably similar and end in crashes, while the third features an unconvincing crash analysis session.

Most of the film unfolds as a languid European road trip travelogue, Bobby either alone or with Lillian criss-crossing the continent from one barely defined destination to another in pursuit of  poorly described purposes. The spectre of death hovering over him from the track to Lillian's disease may have carried some intellectual promise, but the conversations that are supposed to nourish the romance are pointlessly slow to the point of exhaustion. Lillian's lust for a receding life crashes against Bobby's emotional constipation, and they mostly get mad at each other for communicating on different wavelengths. In real terms these two who have fled from each other in opposite directions, but because the script demands it here they fall in love in slow motion.

Al Pacino goes through the entire film with a singular expression of annoyed tedium, although he may be unsuccessfully trying to sort out the meaning of life and death behind the wall of pregnant pauses and one-word non-answers. Marthe Keller overcompensates with an animated portrayal of Lillian, a woman seeking to meet death on her own terms. Anny Duperey shares the pain with her own series of dead-end conversations with Bobby. The rest of the characters are pushed so far into the background none of them register.

The scenery is picturesque, Pollack finding plenty of vistas featuring quaint European towns and idyllic rural landscapes. And here Bobby Deerfield finds its true calling, as a perfect example of cinematic still life.

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Saturday, 12 October 2019

Movie Review: Judy (2019)

A biographical drama about a star fading into life's twilight, Judy features a powerful Renée Zellweger central performance but is otherwise emotionally monotonal.

It's the late 1960s, and former movie star Judy Garland (Zellweger) is bankrupt and reduced to performing for a few dollars in cheap joints, dragging her two younger kids onto the stage when they should be at school. Her ex-husband Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) takes in the children, and in a desperate attempt to raise money Judy heads to London for a series of concerts.

In a series of flashbacks to the late 1930s, every detail of the life of young Judy (Darci Shaw) is controlled by the MGM studio under the watchful eye of boss Louis B. Mayer (Richard Cordery). She is overworked, and studio-supplied pills control her energy, emotions, diet and sleep patterns.

In London, handler Rosalyn Wilder (Jessie Buckley) tries to ensure Judy shows up on stage and on time every night. Judy is depressed to be separated from her kids, fully dependent on pills and alcohol, has trouble sleeping, and refuses to rehearse. Still she frequently shines on stage, but her erratic behaviour tests the patience of the show's promoter.

At a time when Hollywood's men controlled and manipulated children for profit, the young Judy Garland could not have conceivably calculated the high price she had to pay throughout her life in return for global adoration. Judy is the story of a wonderfully talented woman as a spent force, her glory days well behind her, the studio system having sucked her dry and deprived her of any normalcy.

The film is written by David Evans (better known as U2's The Edge) as an adaptation of the play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilterand. Rather unfortunately, all that Judy has to say is revealed in the opening 30 minutes. By the time Garland is struggling to pull herself onto the London stage for the first time, the movie has a further 90 minutes to run and not much left to say. As an indication of the narrative inertness the few flashback scenes to Judy's childhood emerge as the more enjoyable jolts of energy.

Renée Zellweger is relatively stranded in the sameness of the material, but is nevertheless stellar throughout. Aided by transformational makeup she shines in portraying Judy as a mournful former star aware of the impact she can still have on an adoring public, but unable to undo the damage of a lost childhood and a brain eternally warped on chemicals and alcohol. The singing performance scenes are strong, director Rupert Goold emphasizing the loneliness of the stage.

Consistent with the absence of any evolving drama, the rest of the cast is underpowered and contributes little. Jessie Buckley as chief handler Rosalyn shows character promise but is provided with a functionally truncated role, while Finn Wittrock as fifth husband Mickey Deans drifts in and out of the movie as an advertisement for convenient masculinity. More positive is the excellent set design evoking a late 1960s vibe, a swinging and hip London confirming Garland's status as a throwback misfit.

A sad chapter in the life of a great star, Judy twinkles then fades away.

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Thursday, 10 October 2019

Movie Review: Instant Family (2018)

A comedy with dramatic elements, Instant Family explores the complexities of foster parenting through the story of one couple taking on all they can handle.

Married couple Pete and Ellie Wagner (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) flip houses for a living, and have delayed having children. They decide to become foster parents and go through the required screening courses, where they meet social workers Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro). Although initially hopeful of fostering one young child, Pete and Ellie eventually take in 15 year old Lizzy Viara (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings Juan and Lita.

The three kids were raised in harrowing conditions with a drug addicted mother, now in prison. Isabela is surly and cold, unsure why a middle class white couple would take on the hassle of caring for three Hispanic kids. Juan is accident prone and Lita resorts to shrieking to get whatever she wants. Pete and Ellie do their best, but the road to learning instant parenting is bumpy. And once the children's mother finishes her sentence and cleans up, their challenges multiply.

Inspired by director and co-writer Sean Ander's real-life story of adopting three siblings, Instant Family is a sweet family-friendly comedy. The mix of laughs and serious incidents is well calibrated, and although the march towards a happy ending is assured, enough ups and downs happen along the way to maintain interest.

Moments of doubts, setbacks and accidents mix easily with cute silliness involving bathroom use, finding new routines and public temper tantrums. Pete and Ellie have to learn on the job what it means to support each other through the parenting obstacle course, all while under the judgmental gaze of the deeply sceptical Lizzy. She is mostly passing time until her mom is released and recovered enough to regain custody of the kids, and has no interest in establishing emotional connections with yet another set of temporary caregivers.

In addition to extending the film to close to two hours, Anders does overcook a few scenes in search of cheaper laughs. In the most egregious, Lizzy gets involved in a sexting debacle with a sleazy school janitor, leading Pete and Ellie to perpetrate two assaults within five minutes while abandoning Juan and Lita in the car, in a fine example of how not to parent.

In the middle of the learn-on-the-fly turmoil Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne make for an appealing pair, both quickly comfortable as a couple and leaning on their understated comic timing to project less-is-more humour. Isabela Moner excels as Lizzy and steals every scene she is in with a sassy performance of passive-aggressive teen angst justified by deep insecurities.

In support Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer provide a social worker twist on good cop / bad cop, here Notaro's properly by-the-book version of fostering bounced off against Spencer's warts-and-all colour commentary about how it really works. Surviving an Instant Family requires deep-seated belief in the ideal, and imperfect navigation of the real.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Movie Review: Days Of Wine And Roses (1962)

A grim drama about the perils of alcoholism, Days Of Wine And Roses traces the agony of a middle class professional couple as they sink to the bottom of the bottle.

In San Francisco, Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) works in public relations and easily reaches for a drink while schmoozing clients and fulfilling their unsavoury whims. He meets and quickly falls in love with Kirsten Arnesen (Lee Remick), the secretary of one of his clients. Kirsten is initially a non-drinker, but Joe introduces her to the pleasures of alcohol and soon they are both drinking heavily.

They get married and have a daughter, but his constant heavy drinking starts to take a toll on work performance. Joe is eventually re-assigned to a small account based in Houston and is forced to spend long stretches away from home, driving Kirsten to drink ever more heavily to combat loneliness. They both succumb to full-blown alcoholism and their lives enter an uncontrolled downward spiral. They reach out for help from Kirsten's father Ellis (Charles Bickford), a salt-of-the-earth landscape businessman, but any road to recovery will be treacherous.

While 1945's The Lost Weekend was about a struggling writer surrendering to his alcoholism, Days Of Wine And Roses brings the disease into mainstream living rooms. Here Joe and Kirsten are attractive, successful and respected young professionals with good careers and excellent future prospects. They have everything to lose and they test the boundaries of losing everything, their story a sobering tale of how quickly and easily the American dream can dissolve into an alcohol-saturated nightmare.

JP Miller adapted his own teleplay, while director Blake Edwards and star Jack Lemmon accepted the challenge of embracing full-on drama without a hint of the humour or even pathos that made them both famous. The result is a relentlessly bleak romance doubling down on tragedy, two lives all but destroyed as the couple enable each other's behaviour.

Whether they can recover a semblance of balance and normalcy is the subject of the film's second half, and Edwards painfully portrays the many false attempts at drying up. Each becomes ever more agonizing, the next spark of hope extinguished by succumbing to the singular first drink, months of progress dashed in an instant. Presented as one pathway out of the gutter, Alcoholics Anonymous received a real-life boost, here represented by Jack Klugman as a recovering alcoholic who reaches out to Joe at one of his low points.

Early in the film Edwards allows a few of the scenes to run longer than they need to, the courtship scenes particularly laborious. And overall the script is robust but rarely finds a memorably cutting edge or poignant lyricism.

But the two lead actors provide a boost whenever one is needed, as Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick embrace their roles with fearsome commitment. Both had actual struggles with alcohol, and here their performances are almost physically hard to watch. Whether rationalizing their drinking, wallowing in the happy haze of drunkenness or arguing loudly, Lemmon and Remick drive for the gritty realism of self-delusion rather than sympathy.

The film plays out to a soulful Henry Mancini soundtrack featuring judicious use of the award-winning title song, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Days Of Wine And Roses sounds like an idyllic romance, but as it turns out, it's either the wine, or the roses.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Movie Review: Christine (2016)

A biographical drama about coping with depression, Christine explores the build-up of suppressed anxiety to acute levels.

It's the early 1970s, and Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a field reporter with a Sarasota, Florida television station, approaching her 30th birthday. Professionally respected but socially awkward, she prepares and presents the Suncoast Digest segment, focusing on local politics and people. Station manager Michael Nelson (Tracy Letts) finds her material boring, and with the ratings sinking, prods Christine towards more sensational journalism. She resists and they clash constantly.

In her private life Christine is single, tense and depressed, although she does volunteer as a puppeteer at a children's hospital. She harbors a secret crush on station anchor George Ryan (Michael C. Hall), while still living with her mother Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), and suffering through bouts of severe abdominal pains. When the station owner Bob Anderson (John Cullum) announces opportunities for a promotion to a higher-profile Baltimore station, the competitive stress levels at work are heightened.

An independent production based on a true and shocking story, Christine delves into the reporter's life with a mixture of real and imagined events. Written and co-produced by Craig Shilowich and directed by Antonio Campos, the film explores the dichotomy of a woman respected for her principled professional standards, and indeed looked up to by colleagues, but personally and quietly suffering the devastating impacts of depression.

Campos invests plenty of screen time to tease out the attributes and dynamics of his lead character within her work environment. Yes there are petty professional jealousies and arguments about the trajectory of news-as-entertainment, but Christine is recognized as smart, ambitious, and confident, embracing feminism and willing to protect her integrity and fight against the rising tide of blood-and-gore ambulance-chasing news coverage.

Yet away from work the insecurities are gnawing away at her psyche. She is socially uneasy, difficult to approach, and cannot get any man to pay her any attention. Desperate for male companionship and eager to start a family, instead she is confronted with a grievous medical diagnosis. And conversations with her mother Peg include dark references to how badly everything ended at her previous job in Boston.

The film maintains a pragmatic matter-of-factness and focus on the one individual, Campos alternating the action between the local television station resplendent with garish 1970s-era decor (yellow and orange everywhere) and Christine's cramped apartment. He draws a stellar performance from Rebecca Hall, who carries the entire film. With a slightly bent but still assured public posture, she conveys the clash between internal insecurities and a dogged external determination to soldier on.

Life reaches a crossroads of apparent dead-ends, shattered personal and professional expectations, and an unacceptable imperative to conform. Despite all the seemingly insurmountable difficulties, the film nevertheless captures the sometimes difficult to discern but always present love and respect surrounding Christine, both at home and at work.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Movie Review: The Florida Project (2017)

A slice of life drama, The Florida Project passively observes the marginalized lives of America's poor, unemployed and uneducated as they eke out a seemingly futile existence.

In the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee, mischievous six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives at the pink-coloured Magic Castle motel, managed by the sympathetic Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe). Moonee's mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) is an unemployed former stripper, and she allows Moonee to run loose all day amongst the strip malls and other cheap motels in the shadow of Walt Disney World, dreaming up pranks with her friends Scooty and Jancey.

Halley struggles to make ends meet and can barely afford to pay the weekly room rate, but Bobby is tolerant and always gives her another chance. Halley's life gets even more difficult when she has a serious falling out with her only friend and source of food, Scooty's mother Ashley. Halley resorts to desperate measures to keep her daughter fed and a roof over their head, and through it all the resilient Moonee does her best to still have a semblance of a childhood.

The daily struggles of society's marginalized can make for compelling cinema, but moving from head-shaking deep shock and sadness towards a film plot requires artistic intervention. Director and co-writer Sean Baker appears intent on getting away with a minimum amount of effort, The Florida Project often resorting to passive observation of kids being kids. Here the children are crude and foul-mouthed, full of potential to unleash vandalism, and completely unsupervised.

But this is mostly documentary-level material lamenting the neglected and pessimistic corners of American society. The juxtaposition of acute poverty with the scrubbed Disney fantasy next door hovers over Moonee, but otherwise the film requires plenty of patience as momentum is assembled at a pedestrian pace.

Eventually Baker gets there by finally shifting focus from Moonee the daughter to Halley the mother, and the adults take over the final third of the movie. Halley's lackadaisical approach to parenting reaches crisis levels, friendships are ruptured, consequences crystallized and eventually social services are called in.

Willem Dafoe injects plenty of humanity as the world-weary and kind hearted Bobby, a kind man in an unkind place always giving his guests the benefit of the doubt because they have precious little else. But once Halley crosses enough boundaries even his bag of tricks to provide continued shelter starts to run out. Whether at The Florida Project or any other location, Moonee's rough start in life renders future optimism the stuff of fantasy.

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Movie Review: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017)

A surreal drama with psychological suspense and hints of horror and tragedy, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is a quietly sinister exploration of guilt and perverted justice.

Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned heart surgeon, married to ophthalmologist Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two kids, 14 year old Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and the younger Bob (Sunny Suljic). Steven also spends time with 16 year old Martin (Barry Keoghan), a slightly awkward adolescent. Martin's father had previously died on Steven's operating table, and the surgeon carries an unspoken sense of responsibility towards the boy and his mother (Alicia Silverstone).

Steven invites Martin to his house for dinner and to meet Anna, Kim and Bob, and the evening goes well, both Kim and Bob entranced by their new visitor. Martin reciprocates, but Steven's evening with Marin and his mother (Alicia Silverstone) does not go as well. Soon after the visits, young Bob starts to experience inexplicable health problems, and life for the Murphy family takes an unexpectedly dark turn.

Inspired by Greek tragedies but transposed to a modern context, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer is written and directed with contorted glee by Yorgos Lanthimos. The film unfolds at a carefully calibrated pace, Lanthimos investing the entire first hour in character and background introductions before starting to turn the dial towards malevolent settings.

And even once the trajectory is locked towards Steven and his family confronting unimaginable outcomes, Lanthimos refuses to surrender to any genre cliches. Other than eerie music, the mood remains cold, the camera placement and dialogue exchanges precise and oddly clipped. Here bad things and horrible decisions are devoid of shock and turbulence. The awful ailments confronting the Murphys arrive quietly and sit down with the family, dramatically shaking every vestige of normalcy through mere presence.

With emotionally draining quiet pleas for forbearance creeping to the narrative forefront, the seemingly supernatural trauma serves to create an unsettling mood throughout the film's second half. Although Lanthimos has trouble nailing the ending, The Killing Of A Sacred Deer lingers in its portrayal of guilt and karma as overpowering metaphysical realities.

Nicole Kidman and a bearded Colin Farrell buy into Lanthimos' surreptitious tendencies with icy performances, two polite professionals lacking the time to express passion and only alive to the spectre creeping into their family once it takes root. The film hinges on finding a human representation of self-righteous calamity, and Barry Keoghan obliges with a suitably creepy and ominously awkward performance.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer may fend off other physical afflictions, but at an unimaginable emotional cost.

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Movie Review: The Five-Year Engagement (2012)

A romantic comedy about the compromises needed to bridge diverging aspirations, The Five-Year Engagement features a genial couple but is needlessly over-long.

On New Year's Eve in San Francisco, sous-chef Tom Solomon (Jason Segel) proposes marriage to his girlfriend and aspiring psychology teacher Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) exactly one year after they met. She accepts, but they delay setting a date. Meanwhile, his best friend Alex (Chris Pratt) and her sister Suzie (Alison Brie) meet at the engagement party and get married quickly after Suzie becomes pregnant on their first night together.

Violet accepts a two-year graduate position in Michigan, which means a major relocation and delays to the wedding plans. She quickly makes friends with her charming professor Winton (Rhys Ifans) and a tight-knit group of fellow graduate students. But Tom cannot find a good position as a chef and settles for preparing artisan sandwiches at a popular hangout. He starts resenting Violet's success, and when she is offered an extended stay at the university, the strain on their relationship reaches crisis levels.

Just because Tom and Violet's engagement stretches for five years is no excuse for the film to feel that long. Director Nicholas Stoller, working from a script he co-wrote with Segel, contrives to stretch proceedings over the two hour mark. For a relatively slight romantic comedy with the entire premise given away in the title, the bloat is galling.

But The Five-Year Engagement is a slick Judd Apatow production, and the quality shines through. Working in the film's favour is sharp humour, smart performances, lively chemistry and a cast deep in comic talent. Thanks to calibrated execution from Segel and Blunt, Tom and Violet make for a believable couple, invested in caring for each other despite the deep potholes and uncertainties in their relationship.

In support, Chris Pratt and Alison Brie get plenty of screen time and offer some big laughs as the offbeat but perfectly compatible couple building a family a warp speed as Tom and Violet procrastinate for years. And in addition to Rhys Ifans as the potentially seductive Winton, the cast also includes David Paymer, Jacki Weaver, Mindy Kaling, Kevin Hart and Dakota Johnson.

The laughs come from numerous sources. As the wedding wait drags on, grandparents quietly expire. Violet and her classmates conceive of psychology tests involving donuts, with the results spilling over into her relationship with Tom. And while he waits out Violet's graduate studies in Michigan, Tom reverts to Mountain Man mode, complete with an ill-advised attachment to a crossbow. The Five-Year Engagement does go on forever, but also enjoys pointy edges.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Movie Review: Big Fat Liar (2002)

A breezy teen comedy about truthfulness and Hollywood's cut-throat culture, Big Fat Liar delivers easy chuckles without exceeding expectations.

14 year old Jason Shepherd (Frankie Muniz) is an expert at lying about everything. When his teacher Ms. Caldwell (Sandra Oh) catches him lying about a homework assignment, Jason has to write a 1,000 word essay in one afternoon. He writes about what he knows and calls the piece Big Fat Liar. Unfortunately, the assignment falls into the hands of evil Hollywood producer Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti) and Jason is confined to the tedium of summer school.

A few months later Jason and his friend Kaylee (Amanda Bynes) are horrified to catch a trailer for an upcoming movie called Big Fat Liar produced by Wolf. When Jason's parents refuse to believe his idea was stolen, he convinces Kaylee to join him on a trek to Hollywood to confront Wolf. Filming is about to start with Wolf's overworked assistant Monty (Amanda Detmer) doing all the actual work, and Jason will need help from limo driver Frank (Donald Faison) and aging stuntman Vince (Lee Majors) to prove that for once he is not lying.

A reimagination of The Boy Who Cried Wolf fairytale, Big Fat Liar is family-friendly entertainment aimed at young teenagers, and easily hits its modest targets. Parts of the film unfold as a version of Home Alone set in Hollywood, Jason and Kaylee setting up a makeshift command centre in a movie props warehouse and laying a series of traps to force the uncooperative Marty into admitting his theft.

The Dan Schneider screenplay seeks character-driven jokes, and most of the laughs are derived from Jason's ability to quickly make up more elaborate lies to extract himself from the mess created by his previous lie. Director Shawn Levy keeps the mood appropriately light and delivers the film in a compact 88 minutes, with just the one musical montage.

Behind all the laughs is a basic morality tale about the importance of staying close to the truth, Jason sensing the genuine hurt of losing his dad's trust due to the never ending stream of fibs. Meanwhile Schneider mercilessly pokes away at a Hollywood culture portrayed as selfish and mean-spirited. The smarmy Wolf is on a losing streak and desperate for a hit, and stealing from a kid is the least of his worries as he attempts to curry favour with new studio boss Marcus Duncan (Russell Hornsby).

And of course in this town anything good is instigated by assistants, in this case the resourceful Monty, who has the power to disrupt the status quo should she choose to use it.

In the central roles Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes radiate confident charisma, and in a commendably cartoonish performance Paul Giamatti physically and mentally throws himself into the exaggerated antagonist role. Every Wolf has his day, until the kids come to play.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Friday, 4 October 2019

Movie Review: Billy Elliot (2000)

A drama and comedy about chasing dreams amidst economic hardship, Billy Elliot sparkles with good intentions and a mischievous glint in the eye.

It's 1984, and England is in the grips of a raucous miners' strike. In the small mining town of Everington in County Durham, eleven year old Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) witnesses the struggle of his out-of-work father Jackie (Gary Lewis) and older brother Tony (Jamie Draven) as they join the daily picket line protests against replacement "scab" workers. Billy's mother is dead, and the family live in a cramped house with grandma (Jean Heywood) in a working class neighbourhood.

Billy loves to dance, and instead of boxing lessons he starts to sneak into the ballet class run by the seemingly jaded Sandra Wilkinson (Julie Walters). She spots potential in his enthusiasm, and encourages him to attend a Royal Ballet School audition in Newcastle. But when Jackie discovers what his son is up to, he demands that the ballet lessons stop, forcing Billy to either obey his father or give up on his dream.

The film that spawned the hit musical, Billy Elliot is a grounded story of hope flickering within the ashes of a community's despair. Touching on themes of old-fashioned masculinity equating men dancing ballet with homosexuality, the inter-generational divide, and nondescript towns making the difficult transition from resource extraction to a more diverse future, writer Lee Hall charts a tender coming-of-age story.

Just as the adolescent Billy is a product of his environment, the film takes deep breaths from its stark and unscrubbed mining community. Director Stephen Daldry makes the bold decision to keep the language rough and real throughout, coarse words used in every sentence by everyone all the time, including the children and women.

Equally pragmatic is Billy's dancing ability. This is a boy with a natural willingness to dance and interest in learning; he is not anywhere near a prodigy or even naturally talented. As Ms. Wilkinson advises, the Royal Ballet School auditions are in search of attitude; they can teach the rest. As such, the few dance scenes feature Jamie Bell throwing himself into dance moves more with determined resiliency than fluidity, adding to the prevailing sense of authenticity.

If the first half of the film is about the discovery of dance and confronting hardened expectations, the second half is more about fatherhood. Dad Jackie steps out of the background and into the parental role, tapping the depth of love, support and willingness to sacrifice lurking within seemingly rough and ready families just below the surface layer of grimy coal dust.

The miners' strike serves as a backdrop without intruding too far into the main story. The hardship of unemployed men is worsened as some surrender and return to work, fracturing the fraternity. In some respects Billy's discovery of dance and subsequent disobedience of his dad could not come at a worse time, but elsewhere other boys are also coming out of their shell, including best friend Michael.

As it turns out, in an environment where there is nothing left to lose, both the men and their sons discover new and commendable reservoirs of fortitude.

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