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(1998) (Jane Horrocks, Brenda Blethyn) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Heavy Mild *Minor
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Smoking Tense Family
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Moderate Moderate Moderate Minor Mild

Drama: A young, but near mute recluse's amazing ability to imitate legendary female vocalists draws the attention of a sleazy local talent agent who hopes to make it to the big time with her.
Laura Hoff, a.k.a. Little Voice or LV (JANE HORROCKS), is a young and reclusive woman who never ventures outside her Northern English seaside home. Spending most of her time in the attic listening to the collection of albums that her deceased father left her -- featuring the likes of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Shirley Bassey -- LV barely speaks, and if at all, it's just a squeaky whisper.

Her mother, Mari (BRENDA BLETHYN), couldn't be more the opposite. An obnoxiously boisterous woman, Mari can't understand her daughter and constantly belittles her. Otherwise, she hangs out with her friend, Sadie (ANNETTE BADLAND), or visits the local pub desperately trying to pick up any man whom she thinks might make her happy.

It's there that Mari meets Ray Say (MICHAEL CAINE), a sleazy local talent agent who's never been successful in his life. Back at Mari's after an amorous, but unromantic encounter in his car, Ray hears the most miraculous sound emanating from the attic and immediately sees his future lined in gold. For he hears LV singing, not in her mousey voice, but booming out classic songs miraculously sounding exactly like the original artists.

Soon Ray has LV booked at a sparsely attended nightclub run by Mr. Boo (JIM BROADBENT), an outrageously bad emcee, but little do they, or even Mari, know what makes LV suddenly break into song.

As they do what they can to motivate her to perform, Billy (EWAN McGREGOR), a telephone repairman with a penchant for pigeons who works with his boss, George (PHILIP JACKSON), and who's only recently met LV, worries what this instant fame and attention may be doing to her.

Unless they've heard something positive about this film or are fans of legendary singers or someone in the cast, it's not very likely.
For language and brief nudity.
  • JANE HORROCKS plays a reclusive young woman who barely speaks, but can easily mimic the singing voices and mannerisms of legendary performers.
  • BRENDA BLETHYN plays her obnoxious and boisterous mother, a woman who constantly belittles her daughter when not taking a roll in the hay with some man, or smoking or swearing quite a bit.
  • MICHAEL CAINE plays a sleazy, local talent agent who sees LV as his ticket to fame and fortune and does whatever he can to get her to perform no matter how much she doesn't want to.
  • EWAN McGREGOR plays a reserved and pleasant young man who tends to his pigeons when not worrying about how all of this instant fame is affecting LV.


    OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
    Upon first catching a glimpse of Little Voice, the seclusive and mousy character for which this charming and entertaining film is named, one would guess her to be near mute. After all, she rarely speaks, especially in the presence of her dominating and bombastic mother, and when she does, it's little more than a high-pitched squeak.

    Soon, however, we learn that not only can she speak, but that at any given moment she can erupt into her own, one person stage show complete with such amazingly accurate impressions of famed singers that you'd think you were listening to recordings of Judy Garland and other such legendary performers.

    That's how this adaption of Jim Cartwright's acclaimed London stage play, "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice" slowly unfolds. Part comedy, part drama and featuring some rousing musical numbers, the film may not be perfect, but it's very good and delivers an interesting and decidedly entertaining one hundred or so minutes away from the world.

    The film manages to pull that off mainly due to its winning -- albeit not always likeable -- characters and the actors who inhabit them. For the demanding lead role, writer/director Mark Herman ("Brassed Off") wisely chose to stick with Jane Horrocks (TV's "Absolutely Fabulous") who reprises her character from the stage production.

    Upon hearing and seeing the musical numbers, many probably think that Horrocks simply lip synchs to the classic recordings -- I was one of them -- but the closing credits clearly state otherwise. In fact, Cartwright, aware of Horrock's amazing mimicry, scripted the original stage show around her talent, and she reportedly shot this film's musical numbers live.

    After playing the part for several years, the role of LV is clearly Horrocks' and she's nothing but believable as the character. While there's not much to playing the reclusive and mousey side of her -- although she's completely believable doing so -- the quick on again, off again transition to show stopping stage performer is simultaneously amazing to behold, occasionally a bit spooky, and on a deeper, but more subtle note, also decidedly sad.

    As the boisterously loud and selfish mother and her sleazy, two-bit hustler "boyfriend," Brenda Blethyn and Michael Caine are fabulous. Humorously playing her character way over the top, Blethyn is about as far from her Oscar nominated role in the film, "Secrets and Lies," as she can get, and the comedic change suits her well.

    It's Caine ("Educating Rita," "Hannah and Her Sisters") however, who steals the show. Having been recently relegated to less than stellar parts, Caine jumps into his character with full abandon and obviously has a fun time playing the talent agent scoundrel who smells and hopes to capitalize on potential success.

    Although the character's clearly not always likeable, that only adds to what Caine can bring to the part. It's a winning performance for Caine that may just give him an outside shot at some award nominations for best supporting performance.

    Other supporting roles are also decently played, from Jim Broadbent ("The Borrowers") giving a funny performance as a bad and obnoxious emcee, to Ewan McGregor ("Trainspotting") who's okay while playing a decidedly more low key character than what he's done in his thespian past.

    The whole subplot involving his phone repairman character, however, is severely undernourished. While it's clear that he's meant to be the romantic character and that his tending and care for caged carrier pigeons is symbolic of LV in her own emotional and physical cage, the material never fully pans out the way it should (and the way the audience hopes it will).

    Although the moments between Billy and LV are nicely played, they just never take off like the rest of the film. Additionally, early signs of Billy's boss being attracted to Mari -- while she's interested in Ray -- never amount to anything as this possible source of humorous conflict is quickly abandoned.

    Nonetheless, the film has its share of humorous, fun, and greatly entertaining moments. A scene where Mari and Ray "get down" to Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" while LV plays Judy Garland from her attic record player -- with both parties continuously countering the other with more volume -- is quite funny.

    The show stoppers, however, involve a wonderful montage of Caine preparing for LV's debut show while the strains of "Goldfinger" (the theme from the James Bond film of the same name) play, and of course, the cabaret style performance where LV goes through her medley of classic artists and songs.

    Both are highly entertaining, and if your toes aren't tapping in the latter, you'll certainly be humming along with the tunes. We can't mention enough how remarkable Horrocks is in the role, for not only does she sound just like the original artists, but her ability to mimic the mannerisms and onstage performances of the likes of Garland, Monroe and others is simply amazing.

    Although the film gets a little dark toward its conclusion, and nearly all of the romantic subplot featuring McGregor's character is squandered, for the most part the film is highly enjoyable and, more importantly, feels fresh and innovative. Not perfect, but funny, touching, and entertaining, "Little Voice" is a very good film. We give it a 7.5 out of 10.

    Profanity and brief nudity give this film its R rating, but both could have been lessened without any impact on the film, thus insuring a lower rating and greater potential to reach a larger audience. Nonetheless, more than 30 "f" words are heard during the film, and one brief scene shows a bare-breasted, miscellaneous character.

    Sexual activity is also implied by the sight of parked, but rocking cars, and a few related comments are later made. LV's mother, along with Ray, obviously have bad attitudes as they care only about her talent -- once they realize they might make some money from it -- and not her as a person.

    Beyond moderate amounts of drinking and smoking, and some tense family moments, however, the remaining categories have little or no major objectionable content. Nonetheless, you may wish to take a closer look at what's been listed should you or someone in your home wish to see this film.

  • Mari and others have drinks in a club, and Ray later seems a bit drunk when he comes to Mari's house.
  • Mari, Ray and others have drinks in a restaurant/bar.
  • Mari has a drink.
  • People have drinks at Mr. Boo's club.
  • Ray has a drink.
  • Mr. Boo has a tiny bit of blood from his nose after he's been punched.
  • Mari constantly belittles LV, and in one scene calls her "dumb and useless." When the young woman might bring the family fame and fortune, however, she suddenly warms up to her daughter.
  • Likewise, Ray only wants to use Mari to get to LV whom he only wants to use to further his career without worrying about the young woman's wishes. In one scene, he smacks LV for not wanting to perform.
  • George goes to Mr. Boo's club with a woman who's not his wife, but she kicks him and then leaves upon learning that he's married.
  • Upset that she's not going to perform, Ray smacks LV twice, but then ends up falling down the stairs when she slowly, but continually moves toward him (spouting lines from famous people in something of a creepy scene).
  • A scene where a house catches on fire with a person inside it may be tense to some viewers.
  • A scene where Mari grabs LV by the neck in anger, and LV then later responds by somewhat threatening her mother with a broken record may also be tense to some viewers.
  • Knives: Used by an old man and woman in a performance where he throws them at her while blindfolded as she spins around on a large wheel.
  • Phrases: "For f*ck's sakes," "Shag" (sexual), "Freakin'," "Bloody," "Bloody hell," " Piss off," "Bastard," "Screwing around" and "Up yours."
  • Some performers collectively grab their crotches while doing a number on stage.
  • An old blindfolded man throws knives at a woman who's spinning around on a large wheel (the standard, well-known act).
  • None.
  • A tiny bit of suspenseful music plays during the movie.
  • None.
  • At least 31 "f" words, 2 "s" words, 2 slang terms for breasts ("t*ts"), 10 hells, 7 asses (1 used with "hole"), 5 craps, and 3 uses of "Christ," 2 each of "Oh Jesus," "Jesus" and "For Christ's sakes" and 1 use each of "Oh my God," "God," "Jesus Christ" and "For God's sakes" as exclamations.
  • Mari shows some cleavage in different outfits she wears.
  • The camera pans past several parked, and rocking cars, suggesting that people are having sex inside them, including Ray and Mari in his car. Later, Mari comments, "Never had a shag in a Chevy?" Later, Mari tells Ray that she wants to "roll" (presumably "roll around," ie. Have sex) and we see them comically kissing while lying on her couch, but that's it.
  • A bare-breasted "dancer" auditions for Mr. Boo and Ray, and we also see part of her bare butt in her high cut outfit.
  • Upon seeing LV in her stunning outfit, Ray exclaims, "F*ck me!" to which Mari, thinking he's being literal says, "Not now, we've got a show to do."
  • Mari smokes quite often during the film, while Ray, George and Mr. Boo smoke less. Other miscellaneous characters also smoke, including a visiting agent who smokes cigars.
  • Although his death is never explained, the absence of LV's father has clearly had great psychological impact on her (as she also sings her songs to his picture or her imagination/memory of him).
  • Mari constantly belittles LV until they finally have it out near the end of the film.
  • The pressure some people put on others to "perform" (singing or otherwise) when they really don't want to.
  • That Jane Horrocks actually performed all of the numbers and was not lip-synching to the music.
  • Mari kicks LV's record player.
  • A woman kicks George after learning that he's married.
  • Ray violently kicks some of Mari's furniture.
  • We presumably hear the sound of a knife landing in a woman (accidentally, when an old blindfolded man throws knives at a woman who's spinning around on a large wheel in the standard, well-known act).
  • Upset that she's not going to perform, Ray smacks LV twice, but then ends up falling down the stairs when she slowly, but continually moves toward him and then smacks him.
  • Ray punches Mr. Boo.
  • A house is destroyed by a fire (accidentally ignited).
  • Mari grabs LV by the neck in anger, and LV later responds by somewhat threatening her mother with a broken record.

  • Reviewed October 20, 1998 / Posted on December 4, 1998

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