Remember the old Andy Kaufman SNL routine where he’s that wide-eyed little guy from some other country, trying to do standup and failing miserably? Then he says he’ll do his impression of Elvis Presley, turns his back on the audience, combs his hair, and when he turns around he is Elvis. Or when Gomer Pyle suddenly begins singing in his Jim Nabors voice? Those stunning surprises pale in comparison to this little movie, which just misses greatness by blowing the ending. I’d only seen Jane Horrocks as the incredibly incompetent secretary with the outfits that were hard to believe on “Absolutely Fabulous.” Turns out she is multi-talented. Looking at her credits, I see she does a lot of voice work. She can sing like almost any great female, from Shirley Bassey to Judy Garland. She does a great, breathy Marilyn Monroe. But when we first see her she is so shy she is almost unable to speak at all. Michael Caine, as a fifth-rate promoter, hears her and finagles her into doing one concert. And that leads to one of those special movie moments. She transforms instantly into anyone she wants to be during her concert. She lays ‘em in the aisles. And then she stops. She doesn’t really want to sing.
This was based on a play also starring Horrocks (it was written for her), and adapted by the guy who did one of our favorite little British movies, Brassed Off. I can imagine that moment on stage was even more electrifying.
Too bad they couldn’t keep it up. A sub-plot involving pigeon-fancier Ewan McGregor falling in love with LV (Little Voice, pronounced Elvie) never really comes off. And Michael Caine morphs from a delightful, perceptive, endearing rogue into Mr. Hyde at the end. Brenda Blethyn as LV’s mother, a pathetic, abusive, harridan slut finally reached the point where I wanted to climb through the screen and throttle her myself. Which was her assignment, but still. It just didn’t work. But I assure you, the entire movie is worth it just for that 20 or so minutes with LV on the stage.