Friday, May 2, 2014

Go, Billy! Go!

All week, I've been celebrating the replacement of my old, broken DVD player with a new one by watching movies I have and like.  Cloudburst, Mysterious Skin, The Ritz, and scenes from others...the tornadoes and Aunt Meg scenes of Twister, the Wicked Witch of the West version of The Wizard of Oz, the first 45 minutes of Victor/Victoria, and so on.

Last night I decided on Billy Elliot, which I haven't watched in years.  I know I liked it enough to buy it, but I'd forgotten how utterly absorbing it is, even knowing the outcome.  The script is excellent, the direction is excellent, the choreography is wonderful, the cinematography is inventive, and the central ensemble are damned fine actors.  However,...

I grow tired of some words.  "Awesome" has outlived its novelty by about a decade.  "Totally" is irritating.  There are others, and one dealing with acting is "chemistry," as in, "They had great chemistry."  Yet I'm hard pressed to find a better description between Julie Walters and Jamie Bell.  The relationship between the two of them is not just convincing, because "convincing" describes the rest of the cast.  Rather, it's electric.  It's acting that I live for, when the performances leap from the stage or the screen and land in your emotions.

The progression from Billy trying to give the hall keys to Mrs. Wilkinson to their blow-up scene as she tries to prepare him for his audition is absolutely believable.  I love that during class there never isn't a shot of her without her holding a cigarette.  And anytime she reprimands one of the girls, it's always her daughter, Debbie.  The scene in which Billy lets Mrs. Wilkinson read his mother's letter sets up even more of a believable closeness between them, and that's followed by the delightful "I Love to Boogie."  She fights for him, she understands the family dynamic, but at one point she demands too much from Billy and bolts.  When she nearly whispers "Shit," it's one of the most revealing moments.  They fight in the changing room, she smacks him across the face, not unlike he'd be punished at home.  And then he cries and she holds him.  They've gone beyond forgiveness; they've reached an essential understanding.

For me, the one disappointing part of the movie is the final scene, Billy's debut in Swan Lake.  It is right that his father and brother should be there.  I love that Billy's gay childhood friend Michael is there with...his lover? his date? his boyfriend?  "I wouldn't miss this for the world," Michael tells Billy's brother.  I understand the logistics:  Billy's father and brother were comped in; Michael probably bought two tickets and they turned out to be beside the Elliots.  And yet it ticks me off that Mrs. Wilkinson wasn't there.  Maybe she died.  Maybe he will give her his house tickets for another performance.  And it's not like teachers always get their due.  However, after the intensity of that relationship, the love, the education, the care, the understanding, it felt to me that Mrs. Wilkinson was forgotten.

Still, it is one of the great movies.  If you think it's just a Broadway show, you really need to see the movie.  It is among the best.

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