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Director: Stephen Daldry

Producers: Greg Brenman and Jon Finn

Written by: Lee Hall

Cast: Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis, Jamie Draven

Rating: **** out of 5

BILLY ELLIOT, although following a formulaic, heart-warming plot — disadvantaged child strives against the odds to achieve a seemingly unattainable goal — shines in its innocent acting and genuineness. Yes, the plot was predictable, but there were some stylistic scenes, including the opening scene, that distinguished the film. In the opening scene, Billy energetically bounces on his bed, but the bed isn't shown. All the viewer sees is a boy leaping in the air, set against a yellow-printed wall.

Set in Durham, England in 1984 amid miners' strife and striking for higher wages, the young prodigy-in-the-rough shines through. Billy (Bell) is an 11-year-old boy who goes to boxing lessons weekly. After failed attempts to be a true "Rocky" and comments from his coach like, "You’re more dance than punch," and "You’re a disgrace to those gloves," Billy is drawn to the music of the ballet lessons taking place in the opposite side of the Everington Boys Club gym. From then on, Billy covertly ducks his boxing lessons and devotes his energies to ballet, all the while hiding his ballet slippers from his dad (Lewis) and brother, Tony (Draven), both of whom are involved in the explosive labor situation. The only pair of pants amid the tutus, Billy sticks out and grabs the attention of cynical, crabby ballet instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson (Walters).

Mirroring Billy’s clandestine ballet exploits, his best bud, Michael, also harbors a secret. One day Billy pops over to Michael’s house and sees him wearing his sister’s dresses and donning makeup. Further adding to his pal's mystery, Michael warms Billy’s hands after they both build a snowman. When Billy asks him what he's doing, Michael leans over and gives him an affectionate peck. Although not comprising a major theme in the movie, Michael’s homosexuality emphasizes Billy’s masculinity as he athletically dances and flirts with a ballet classmate, Debbie.

Billy’s secret is discovered when Billy’s father barges in on ballet lessons to find his son amid a sea of pink tutus. Enraged and embarrassed, Dad forces Billy to quit. As with all denied things, the goal only becomes more desirable and important. At Mrs. Wilkinson’s suggestion, Billy begins taking private lessons. After extreme bonding, she urges Billy to try-out for the Royal Ballet School in London. But Billy misses his audition when he has to appear in because of his brother's legal difficulties. Mrs. Wilkinson shows up and thus fires a heated debate between Billy’s dad, Tony, and Mrs. Wilkinson, forcing Billy from the house in a dancing fury. Reminiscent of the frenzied and emotive dancing of SWING KIDS, Billy dances furiously and crashes into a wall at the end of his street, symbolizing his frustration and the familial barrier he faces.

Finally, the tides of emotion turn in the Elliot household. Billy’s father allows him to try out for the Royal Ballet School. Making the journey to London, Billy’s FLASH DANCE-esque try-out comes to a halting anti-climax. After punching out a little boy trying to comfort him, the judges reprimand Billy and dismally send him home to await word of acceptance or rejection. Weeks later, a letter arrives by mail, and Billy hesitantly opens it to find …

I’m sorry, but I couldn’t spoil the ending. Realizing the typical narrative structure, you should be able to intuit the final scene. I did like this movie primarily because of the strong acting by newcomer Jamie Bell and pro Julie Walters. Overall, Stephen Daldry makes a huge feature film debut success with BILLY ELLIOT.

—Jennifer Prestigiacomo

HYBRID Ratings Guide:

***** Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

**** It’s worth a full-price ticket.

*** It’s worth a matinee ticket.

** Wait for video rental.

* Check out the video from the library, if you must.

0 While I would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

Mike Doughty

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