For one thing, all these fine actors crank up their performance volumes one notch too high, creating a pitch of sustained frenzy.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

Little Voice deserves great expectations. How, after all, can you go wrong with Brenda Blethyn, Michael Caine, and the fabled mimic, Jane Horrocks? Quite simply, it seems. For one thing, all these fine actors crank up their performance volumes one notch too high, creating a pitch of sustained frenzy. For another, writer/director Mark Herman fails to credit his audience with the ability to understand his screenplay. He hammers home his points, overwhelming us with the obvious.

Still, the players are seductive. Mari (Brenda Blethyn) is an over-the-top creation, a sodden floozie who wears a path between her dowdy house and the local bar looking for some life that might soak up her prodigious and untapped energy. Billing himself as "agent to the stars," the scuzzy Ray Say (Michael Caine) drops into the bar with the air of a celebrity slumming for the evening. When they are both well-oiled, Mari brings Ray home for some leaden dancing and awkward sex.

Upstairs, Little Voice (Jane Horrocks), Mari's understandably timid daughter, hides alone in her room with her late father's record collection, trying to blot out the drunken sounds from downstairs. When the electrical fuses blow and the music continues from above, Ray realizes the voice belting out show tunes by Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, and Marilyn Monroe is live, not canned. Internalizing the music her father loved, Little Voice is belting it out in the voices of the originals.

Agent Ray is galvanized, Mari is enlisted, the local bar will be the stage. Together they will make a fortune from the public celebration of the mimic who lives in their midst. But there's a problem. Pygmalion stories, usually surefire, need charm, and this movie has no charm. Mari's loudmouthed, relentless badgering of her daughter comes off as offensive, not funny. Ray's greasy self-promotion is mean-spirited, not winning.

Only Billy (Ewan McGregor) brings relief. He is the telephone installer who senses Little Voice's real self-even if the rest of us don't. In gentle pursuit, he urges her to fly free, like the homing pigeons he keeps on his roof. He will tend the gilded cage. That is the problem with the movie. Everything is obvious, with double underlining.

That's not to deny the fun of watching Brenda Blethyn lounging in a perpetual hangover, bulging out of her clothes, rummaging to find something in her ice box that isn't covered in mold, and uttering the understatement of the evening: "I know you're a bit on the quiet side; I'm a bit noisy." Michael Caine is a sight in his frantic rush to pawn everything so he can get the bandstand, the band, the props for presenting Little Voice. Jane Horrocks's impersonations are clever, but strangely flat. The whole movie is flat. Perhaps it's because it's all too seedy and too sad, too pitiful to be engaging. If Michael Caine and Brenda Blethyn can't turn a story to gold, then something is wrong with the script.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Miramax
Rating : R
Running time : 1h39m

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