Monday, April 18, 2011

Movies I'm Watching: Little Voice

Our local Blockbuster Video shop shut down recently. I took advantage of the opportunity the closing afforded to pick up about a dozen films for only $2.99 each, as well as two seasons of Mad Men at a dollar a disk. Among the films I chose was Little Voice (1998, Directed by Mark Herman; starring Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Brenda Blethyn, and Ewan McGregor), purely on the strength of Michael Caine's presence in the cast (I had not been aware of Horrocks before--most of her work appears to have been in television or--not surprisingly--doing voice characterizations).

I would call this a flawed gem. The writing struck me as weak in places: did Mari, the Brenda Blethyn character, have to be so unrelievedly loud and coarse? I think not. More importantly, the sudden nastiness of Michael Caine's character (down-and-out promoter Ray Say) toward Mari seemed out of character. He turns on her and needlessly humiliates her, saying, essentially, that she disgusts him physically. In the flow of the story, the scene is used to express his frustration when he begins to feel that Mari is an obstacle in the way of his efforts to exploit her daughter, the eponymous Little Voice, a pathologically shy girl that barely speaks yet has an extraordinary ability to mimic some of the more interesting female singers of the 1940s, '50s and '60s, including Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, and Marilyn Monroe. Yet, Ray was happy to pick Mari up in the bar where he meets her and enjoy his time with her before he knew anything about the woman's extraordinary singing daughter--in other words, before he had any motive to pretend to be interested. Clearly he was attracted to her before Little Voice (or LV as she's known) becomes an issue. In contrast to this bit of nastiness, he is quite tender with LV (although he has a strong motive here, he seems genuinely to care about her). Is he really so two-faced? Is he really so unfeeling? Perhaps, but something in the logic of the scene with Mari seemed deficient.

Having said that, Jim Broadent is brilliant as the club owner, Ewan McGregor delivers a solid performance, and Jane Horrocks is simply phenomenal. It's really hard to believe she's not lip-synching, but apparently she isn't. She actually can sing like Judy Garland, like Shirley Bassey, like Marilyn Monroe. While the attachment of the shy LV to her dead father quickly becomes rather creepy, it's easy to ignore that and other problems for the sheer pleasure of hearing Horrocks sing. In other words, Little Voice works marvelously as a vehicle for her special talent. Not surprisingly, the film is an adaptation of a play of the same name originally written to showcase Horrocks and her singing. Recommended.

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