.V. (Jane Horrocks), the heroine of Little Voice, wears her hair in a poodle cut that hangs over her eyes, and on the rare occasions that she speaks, she sounds like a duck. Incessantly hectored by a slatternly working-class mum, Mari (Brenda Blethyn), L.V. stays in her room all day, stares at a beatific picture of her dead dad, and plays vinyl records of Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, and other noisy vocalists. Ah, but when she sings, it’s as if she’s channeling the performers she worships–she’s uncanny. Her mother’s new boyfriend, a luckless promoter called Ray Say (Michael Caine), hears L.V. during a power outage and hocks his possessions to book her an orchestra at a local music hall. This could be his big break–that is, if the queer child will allow her private gift to be hauled before the public. Jim Cartwright wrote the play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice especially for Horrocks, whom he knew to be a wonderful impressionist. (Americans know her best as the befuddled Bubble on Absolutely Fabulous, although she’s even better in 1988’s The Dressmaker and Mike Leigh’s 1991 Life Is Sweet.) You can see how this material might play onstage, especially when L.V. picks up the microphone and out come the damnedest sounds. In the movie, Horrocks’ singing is clearly post-synced: It sounds so artificially enhanced that the studio had to add a title before the closing credits assuring you that it’s Horrocks’ own voice. The other elements translate even less well to the screen, and the director, Mark Herman, exacerbates the problem by rubbing your nose in the characters’ hideousness. Caine lets you see the desperation behind Ray’s seedy opportunism and manages to elicit some sympathy. But Blethyn is a honking horror show. Piper Laurie in Carrie? Demure. Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest? Wanly tasteful. Godzilla? A stripling. You can’t look away because she’s always there in the center of the screen. You can only close your eyes, plug your ears, and whisper to yourself, “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.”
Links Find out more about Tom Stoppard, playwright and co-author of Shakespeare in Love’s screenplay, here, and read the behind the scenes experience of a woman who was an extra in the film here. For pictures of the lovely Gwyneth Paltrow, check out this fan page or the film’s official site. The official Little Voicesite has video clips from the movie. For more on Jane Horrocks, this fan page has much funny information, as does this site devoted entirely to Bubble, the character Horrocks played in Absolutely Fabulous. Check out this ” Culturebox” entry for Edelstein’s review of Star Trek: Insurrection. Finally, click here for more Slate film reviews. David Edelstein is Slate’s film critic.