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Review: 'Little Voice' showcases remarkable talent

Web posted on:
Friday, December 04, 1998 11:14:53 AM EST

From Reviewer Paul Clinton

(CNN) -- At times inspirational, at times extremely bleak, "Little Voice" was created almost exclusively for the sake of showcasing the extraordinary talents of British actress Jane Horrocks.

Best known in the United States for her role as Bubble in the British comedy series "Absolutely Fabulous," Horrocks has a remarkable gift in her ability to perfectly imitate the singing and speaking voices of Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Shirley Bassey and Judy Garland.

Paul's Pix: "Little Voice"
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Theatrical preview for "Little Voice"
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Michael Caine, Ewan McGregor and Brenda Blethyn (a 1997 Oscar nominee for Best Actress for "Secrets and Lies") join Horrocks in this film adaptation of her very successful 1992 London play -- written and produced specifically to showcase Horrocks's talent -- called "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice."

A command performance

Caine, in a near-extension of his title role in the 1966 film "Alfie," stars as Ray Say, a greasy-haired, philandering, show-business bottom-feeder who sees Little Voice, called simply LV, as his ticket to the big time. Blethyn is Mari, LV's motor-mouthed, desperately lonely mother who sees Say as her ticket out of a dismal existence.

The only person with LV's wellbeing in mind is Billy (McGregor), a shy, quiet man who keeps pigeons and installs phones.

Despite the fact that LV is also shy to the point of being almost mute, and only sings in private to a photo of her dead father, Say talks her into performing for an audience. She's a huge success. But when he tries to force her to continue, the results are tragic.

Return to making 'kitchen sinks'

"Little Voice" is another in a recent spate of British films representing a genre dubbed "kitchen sink cinema." Usually set in the industrial area of northern England, these films, such as "Trainspotting," "Brassed Off," and "Winter's Tale," feature working-class people living a listless existence. For me, the best thing about these films is how grateful they make me that I don't live in northern England.

That this film falls into that "kitchen sink" category is no accident. It was shot in the northern England town of Scarborough, a slightly deteriorating fishing village which is also full of factories. The producer, Elizabeth Karlsen, also produced "The Crying Game," and writer/director Mark Herman wrote and directed "Brassed Off." They are both apparently attracted to unconventional and gritty material and to actors with bad teeth.

However, Horrocks' gift for impersonation is remarkable. If her acting career ever stalls, she can take her singing act on the road. Her Garland impression alone would fill every gay bar in the world.

Both Caine and Blethyn turn in excellent performances and you can almost touch their pulsating desperation. McGregor gives a nice understated portrayal as Billy, and Horrocks you have to hear to believe.

But be warned. This is not escapist, fluff entertainment. "Little Voice" has a big heart and there are some endearing moments, the music is sensational, and this film is well done, but overall it's a fairly bleak movie about some very bleak people. However, if you stick with it, ultimately it's inspirational.

"Little Voice" opens in some major cities on December 4, and then expands across the country on Christmas Day. The film is rated R for language and brief nudity. 99 minutes.

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