A star is born

Since her father's death, LV—short for Little Voice—has spent most of her life in her upstairs room, listening to her father's enormous collection of records. But she doesn't just listen to them, she does dead-on impressions of Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, and others. When her mother's latest fling, a mediocre talent agent, hears LV sing, he also hears the chime of cash registers and sets about trying to make her a star. Another small British comedy-with-heart, Little Voice clearly hopes to strike the same chord that made The Full Monty such a lucrative success.

Though best known in the US as the dimwitted publicist Bubble on the cult TV series Absolutely Fabulous, Jane Horrocks has a phenomenal gift for mimicry and played LV to great acclaim on the London stage. Unfortunately, some things translate from stage to screen, and some things don't. No matter how good or even great the singer is, a recording doesn't have the electrifying effect of a live voice. The credits tell you that Horrocks did her own singing, but you're still not hearing it come out of her own throat. Since there's virtually no difference between her singing and the records played in the first half of the movie, she might as well be dubbed.

What further hampers the movie is that you never quite believe LV is a real person instead of a prefabricated underdog-destined-to-triumph. Horrocks has enough charm that you want to believe her. It's a gimmick role, but it's her gimmick (the original play as written for her), and that mark of ownership carries the movie through. As does the talent of the excellent cast. Michael Caine gives a finer performance than he's given in years, playing a sleazy, pathetic, greedy, and yet sort of sincere talent agent who can tell a sly, winning story but who can also tear someone's guts out with a vicious word. Brenda Blethyn's part is just as juicy; she plays LV's self-pitying, self-deluding mother and chews the scenery with lots of zest. Ewan McGregor once again demonstrates an effortless charisma that Matt Damon would kill his own mother for. McGregor's so self-effacingly lovable as a shy telephone repairman that the transformation is almost spooky. Little Voice is a manipulative fraud, a forced metaphor tarted up into a hokey, heart-tugging story—but it's enjoyable fakery with clever writing and real actors doing what they do best. It's pure ham served up with lots of pluck.

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