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With: Brenda Blethyn, Jane Horrocks, Ewan McGregor, Philip Jackson, Annette Badland, Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent
Written by: Mark Herman, based on a play by Jim Cartwright
Directed by: Mark Herman
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief nudity
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/18/1998

Little Voice (1998)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sing Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in 1979, when Diana Ross played Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, there was much speculation as to whether or not Ross actually sounded like Holiday. The consensus was that it was Ross interpreting Holiday's songs so that, in the end, it was okay. It's too bad that Jane Horrocks wasn't around then.

In Little Voice, a new movie opening this holiday season, Horrocks plays LV (for "Little Voice"), who is the actual dictionary definition of "mousy." She's a shy, quiet little thing who lives with her loud, foul-mouthed mother (Brenda Blethyn), and listens to her late father's classic record collection. One night, her mother brings home Ray Say (Michael Caine), a fourth-rate talent agent, and they begin noisily making out. LV puts on Judy Garland to drown out their noise, and they retaliate by putting on some Tom Jones. The weak electrical system can't handle it, and the fuse blows. In the darkness and silence, a single voice can then be heard, finishing the Judy Garland song. And it sounds just like Judy Garland.

Ray hears her singing and tries to put her on the road to show biz. They put her on stage at a sleazy club owned and operated by Mr. Boo (Jim Broadbent). Nobody seems to realize that when LV sings she's singing to her late father. He appears in the movie as a ghost, in black and white, smiling and winking at her. A phone repairman, played by the amazing Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting and Brassed Off) becomes infatuated with the shy LV. He also raises pigeons and waits for his favorite, Duane, to come back from France. Needless to say, everything comes together in the end, and it has something to do with the faulty wiring in LV's house.

Little Voice is based on a play by Jim Cartwright, who wrote it especially for Horrocks with her particular talents in mind. The movie is adapted and directed by Mark Herman who scored last year with the wonderful Brassed Off. Brassed Off had a knack for making the brass band's music sound fresh, alive, and exciting, and Little Voice does the same, but on a much higher level. Horrocks can speak and sing in perfect representations of Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, and Marliyn Monroe. But it's not only that. Those women all had certain aspects of sadness that came out in their singing, either by covering it up, or by accentuating it. Horrocks manages also to capture this sadness in her performance. Her singing scenes left me in tears.

The plot is no masterwork, but the movie rises to such delirious heights with Horrocks' performance that it comes highly recommended. (Not to mention the wonderful performances by Blethyn, Caine, and Broadbent.) Horrocks caused a stir back in 1991 in Life Is Sweet by Mike Leigh, in whose films the cast develops their own dialogue and characters. Horrocks is a great actress, but must be given freedom that is unusual if not completely absent in films. However, lightning has struck twice, and we should be grateful. This is an Oscar-worthy performance. You've got to see this movie.

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