Little Voice

1998, Movie, R, 99 mins


Actress Jane Horrocks is so good in this drama that you'll hardly notice -- or care -- that the rest of the film isn't quite up to snuff. The painfully shy Little Voice (Horrocks) -- LV for short -- lives in a picturesque English seaside town with her mother Mari (Brenda Blethyn), a blowsy, loudmouthed good-time gal whose good times are nearly at an end. Their ramshackle house is attached to the empty music shop once owned by LV's late, beloved father, and LV spends her days alone with Dad's photograph and record collection, blasting Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland. But LV does more than listen: In the privacy of her bedroom, she's perfected spot-on impersonations of her favorite singers. Mari's oily new beau, would-be showbiz impresario Ray Say (Michael Caine), sees a fortune in the offing, if he can just get LV out of the house and onto a stage. Probably best known to American audiences as Absolutely Fabulous's hilariously dim Bubble, Horrocks is also a powerful dramatic actress (check out Mike Leigh's LIFE IS SWEET) and a gifted mimic, and that combination lies at the heart of Mark Herman's (BRASSED OFF) film. Adapted from Jim Cartwright's The Rise and Fall of Little Voice -- a stage play written especially for Horrocks -- the film works best as a showcase for her unique talents. She's captivating, as are Blethyn and Caine (both bring tremendous vitality to what are basically stock characters), and Ewan McGregor is quietly appealing as a telephone serviceman who falls for the strange little songbird. But the film is stuffed with simplistic symbolism (there's much talk of caged birds flying free) and overstates the importance of finding one's voice, even if it means sounding like Shirley Bassey. It feels unfortunately like a dashed-together setting for some truly sparkling performances. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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