The final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my viewing of West Side Story isn’t necessarily a musical, but it definitely shares the same love of dance.
Billy Elliot, which has since inspired a stage musical perfectly captures joy in dance and simultaneously juxtaposes the ordinary events of day to day life with the continuing moments of the extraordinary if only we are there to recognise and encourage them.
Billy (a very young Jamie Bell) is eleven, growing up in Durham in Thatcher’s England of the 1980s. His father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven) are part of the striking miners, all while trying to hold the family together, after the loss of Billy’s mother (Janine Birkett).
His father pushes for him to be more involved in boxing at the local youth centre, but he is drawn to the ballet class overseen by Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). The class, and his love for it are at immediate odds with his father and his family, the perceived nature of masculinity and dance.
When he shows a real talent for it, his family, already on the verge of disintegrating seems about to collapse, until they rally behind him.
It’s wonderfully crafted, and as mentioned above, I love how it deals with something that is something momentous for a few people, but that life goes on as expected and as usual for all those around them – that’s life. We can be going through something emotionally powerful while the person next to you could just be going through their day to day trials.
The dancing, the music, and the sheer joy that Bell brings to his role is wonderfully infectious. It ends up being a feel good movie all around and has some wonderful characters and moments.
Yes, the story ends up being predictable, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Sometimes, that is exactly what you need, and the story plays wonderfully.
There is a joy infused to the entire film, from the opening shot to the last even when it deals with tougher things; the lower middle class family trying to hold it together during the strike, the clashes with the police, the grief still felt by the loss of the mother character.
Bell is wonderful and the film rests easily on his shoulders, and the performances of those around him are natural and bring the story to life vividly. Walters is always a joy onscreen and brings the everyday nature of Durham, to life perfectly as she struggles with her husband, and is losing her own daughter, despite trying to maintain a connection with her.
Everyone is flawed, no one is perfect, but we can take joy in each of our gifts, and lift and support them – a wonderfully strong message that more of our society should take to heart.