Rated R - Running time: 1:36 - Released 12/25/99

Little Voice is one of those films that deserves more credit than it's going to get in this country. Like Waking Ned Devine, The Boxer, and The Full Monty, it is an excellent film, but not very accessible to Americans because of its very "foreign" style. Little Voice is set in England and features an all-British cast (including Michael Caine and Jim Broadbent), but contains a caliber of acting not seen every day. Brenda Blethyn was nominated for an Oscar for supporting actress, and Jane Horrocks, who plays the title character, is astounding not so much for her acting, but her impressions of famous female singers. The thick accents take a bit of getting used to for us Yanks, but if you get a chance to see it, this low-profile gem directed by Mark Herman (Brassed Off) is well worth the trouble of a little careful listening.

Little Voice (Horrocks) is a young woman who suffers from serious introversion. Her real name is Laura, but she is called "LV" by her loud, bawdy mother Mari (Blethyn), who is the only person who ever sees her. Since the death of her beloved father, LV spends most of her life in her bedroom listening to his vast collection of LPs. His favorites were Marilyn Monroe, Sheila Bassett, and Judy Garland, so those are LV's favorites, too. But she doesn't just listen. Over the years, she has grown so familiar with the tunes, she has developed an uncanny ability to mimic the famous artists.

No one knows about LV's talent until Mari meets up with a lustful man in a bar named Ray Say (Caine). Ray is a small-time agent and producer who hires strippers to dance at the nightclub owned by his friend Mr. Boo (Broadbent). When he comes over to Mari's place for a little drunken sexual escapade, he overhears LV singing upstairs. Mari just thinks of the girl as an impediment to her social life, but Ray immediately recognizes her talent, so he asks Mr. Boo over to hear her. LV is reluctant at first (she can hardly stand being around other people), but she gets a spiritual message from her dad that it's all right, so she performs. In an immensely satisfying scene at the club, she breaks out of her cage (literally) and is a smash hit in front of a packed house.

LV is also being romantically pursued by a young phone repairman named Billy (Ewan McGregor), who suffers from his own acute shyness. He raises homing pigeons, and LV is the first person he's ever met who is as quiet and delicate as his birds. So while Mari, Ray, and Mr. Boo are busy exploiting LV for all she's worth, Billy assures her that she need not perform to win his love.

At the close of the film, the credits assure us that Jane Horrocks performed all her own singing. This is necessary, because she sounds so much like Garland, Monroe, Bassett, Holliday, Deitrich, etc., that one would swear the scenes were overdubbed. In fact, I daresay this film, written by director Herman (and the play The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice, on which it is based, by Jim Cartwright), was designed solely to showcase Horrocks's ability. But thank goodness Herman didn't skimp on supporting talent. Horrocks's impersonations are incredible, but what makes this a wholly satisfying film are the performances by Blethyn, Caine, and Broadbent, who add astounding energy and depth.

Little Voice is an amazing feat of impressionism. It's a truly funny comedy. It's a heartwarming romance. But its time at your local theatre will be fleeting. If you can't see it there, be sure to put it on your "must rent" list when it comes out on video. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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