Little Voice (review)

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I love discovering a perfect little film like Little Voice — it restores my faith in movies, which so often gets crushed by the Hollywood crap machine. Of course, this is not a Hollywood movie (though Miramax had a bit of a hand in its making), and there are plenty of people who are just as turned off by twee little British flicks as I’m turned on by them. But this is my site, and here, I decide what’s good and what’s bad.

In a disconsolate, rundown fishing village in the North of England lives L.V. Hoff (Jane Horrocks: Chicken Run), a reclusive naïf lives with her mother, Mari (Brenda Blethyn), above an out-of-business record shop. Dubbed “Little Voice” by her mother, L.V. doesn’t have much to say — Mari does all the talking; in fact, she never shuts up. L.V.’s only friends are her records — she takes comfort in her collection of vinyl Billie Holidays, Edith Piafs, Judy Garlands, and Marilyn Monroes, all of which once belonged to her beloved father, now dead.
Within the space of a day, though, three new challenges invade L.V.’s quiet life and threaten her solitude: the newly installed telephone, which has her chatty mother all atwitter, and the ringing of which poses quite a quandary for the silent L.V.; shy but cute telephone installer Billy (Ewan McGregor: The Phantom Menace, A Life Less Ordinary), who is instantly taken with L.V.; and Ray Say (Michael Caine: The Cider House Rules, The Muppet Christmas Carol), Mari’s new boyfriend, an agent for nightclub acts who’s just as loud and obnoxious as mom. As if his mere presence weren’t bad enough, once he hears L.V. mimicking, brilliantly, her favorite singers, he decides that she is the act that will finally make him. She, of course, wants nothing to do with him.

Horrocks makes music L.V.’s only escape from a world that doesn’t understand her — her face is full of serene rapture as she spins her discs and even more so when she sings, and it’s as if all energy has drained from her when she stops. (And Horrocks, astoundingly, did her own singing, bringing to life such different types of voices as Garland’s and Piaf’s — the film’s soundtrack is a must-buy.) McGregor, a chameleon of an actor who can be geeky or gorgeous just by altering the expression on his face, is like a live-action Wallace (of “& Gromit” fame), a young man slightly more connected to the world than L.V. who nevertheless keeps to himself — his best friends are the pigeons he keeps and races. There’s something magical that suffuses their bashful interest in each other, in the innocence both cling to in the face of ridicule from others, and while both are a bit removed from reality, together they seem more like real people than the noisy, rude people around them.

Mari and Ray, the film’s other dyad, are the polar opposites of L.V. and Billy. While the youngsters find a solid grounding for themselves in their disconnection from the rest of the world, Mari and Ray use their own little fantasies as ways to lie to themselves, she about her waning attractiveness and he about his chances of ever making a success of himself. She delights in “that slight look of Elvis” she sees in Ray, in awe that one such as he would be drawn to her. Actually, though, Ray’s just a big fish in an extremely tiny pond, booking horrible acts for the cheesy, crappy club run by the improbably named Mr. Boo (Jim Broadbent: Topsy-Turvy, The Borrowers, who’s just the right combination of smarm and wretchedness). Ray’s fantasies about himself crumble, too, till Caine gets to enact one of the greatest nervous breakdowns ever set to film.

Ever detail in Little Voice comes together just so to create an off-kilter comedy that starts off light and gets darker and more uncomfortable, mixing humor and pathos in a way that only the Brits can pull off. Totally original, utterly unpredictable, this is a charming little story of a girl and boy who come out of their shells, and a man and woman who crawl back into their own.

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