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LITTLE VOICE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jane Horrocks, Brenda Blythen, Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor
Director:  Mark Herman
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Miramax
Features:  None
Length:  97 Minutes
Release Date:  July 17, 1999

Film **1/2

Little Voice could have easily been one of the greatest comedy films ever made…no exaggeration.  It features a terrific script, impeccable and hysterical performances by Brenda Blythen and Michael Caine, a quiet and appealing role for Ewan McGregor, and one of the most show-stopping, entertaining, and buoyant performances you’ll ever see from the extraordinary Jane Horrocks in the title role.  She is simply astounding. 

With this many elements going for the picture, I feel terrible that I can’t give it a higher recommendation.  The problem is that the film ends with such an ugly and unnecessary sense of mean-spiritedness, that it robs much of the pleasure from the movie-going experience.  And hours after watching it, hoping I could change my mind, I still feel the same way.  It’s like eating a spoiled dessert.  You may have had the most fantastic meal imaginable prior to it, but you won’t be able to get that bad taste out of your mouth.

Mari (Blythen) is an eccentric, fun-loving widow and mother with quite a burden to deal with:  her daughter, L. V. (Horrocks).  L. V. is an introvert, who hardly ever speaks, and when she does, it’s in a timid, squeaky voice.  She prefers to stay in her room, listening to her father’s old record collection for hours at a time, and staring at his black and white photo on her wall.

Mari is currently courting Ray Say (Caine), a not-so-talented talent manager who’s a lot unluckier than he lets people think.  One night, while he’s paying Mari a visit, the lights go out, and the record player stops…and to his amazement, he hears L. V. continuing the song from her room…with a full, beautiful voice that sounds uncannily like the artist she was listening to, Judy Garland.

Ray sees this as his opportunity to make a name for himself.  He wants L. V. on stage, sharing her gift with the world.  But L. V. doesn’t really want to sing for anyone other than her father.  It’s going to take some convincing, particularly since neither Ray nor her mother really seem to understand her.  Her only real sense of connection comes from the shy Billy (McGregor), an unassuming fellow who spends his free time raising and caring for his pigeons.

Up to the point where L. V. finally makes her big debut, the movie is a delightfully funny comedy, with laughs coming upon laughs.  But the film’s best moment is definitely when she takes the stage.  A little shy at first, she suddenly sees the image of her father in the crowd (black and white, of course), and suddenly erupts into glorious song.  She perfectly mimics Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, and others.  It was absolutely magical, and I didn’t want to see it come to an end.

And unfortunately, just as I was ready to scribble “one of the very best comedies of the 90’s”, the movie took an unpleasant turn.  Highly unpleasant.  I won’t reveal it here, but I will say, it surprised me how much air could be let out of such a terrific film in such a short time.

So, with a good deal of disappointment, I find myself writing the review that I must in order to be honest with myself, and not the glowing review I was so ready to give it.  But, by all means, I still consider this a must-see picture (at least one time), because if you miss it, you will miss one of the happiest surprises you could hope to find in Jane Horrocks’ amazing performance.  The film’s best moment after turning sour is the very first end credit, which states that she really did sing all of her own songs in the movie. 

Video ***1/2

A mostly good, though non-anamorphic, transfer from Miramax.  The picture is free from grain and color bleeding, and maintains good clarity and sharpness throughout.  Most of the film takes place in unremarkable settings, though, so I tended to mostly appreciate the transfer during the nightclub scenes. 

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is quite good, though, and really shines during the wonderful musical numbers.  The front and rear stages create an ambient mix for the songs, but apart from that, not much in the way of discretion.

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

Oh, how I mourn for the movie that Little Voice might have been.  To come so close to true film greatness, and not just miss, but practically crash and burn in the stretch run, is a real tragedy.  But the magical work of Jane Horrocks still shines through and rises above the idiom here.  She is a gifted actress, singer, and impressionist, and all movie fans owe themselves the treat that is her magnificent work in this picture.