What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that the uplifting dramedy Billy Elliot is rated R primarily for language (an edited version was released on DVD with a PG-13 rating, but it's no longer easy to find for rental or sale) -- everyone in the movie uses extremely strong language all the time. There are also references to transvestism and homosexuality, some discussion of sex among young characters, and a brief glimpse of bare buttocks when one character moons another. Some teens may be upset by the way that family members treat each other -- they're insulting, neglectful, and cruel, and one parent hits a child and threatens another -- but the overall takeaway is a heartwarming one.
What's the story?
BILLY ELLIOT takes place in 1984 England, as the police come to the small mining town of Durham to keep order during a strike. Amidst the tension, 11-year-old Billy (Jamie Bell), whose main sport is boxing, is pulled into a ballet lesson taught by Mrs. Wilkinson (Julie Walters). Billy discovers that ballet both answers and creates a need in him that he can no more name than he can resist. Billy lives with his father (Gary Lewis), brother, and grandmother; his mother died the year before, his grandmother is forgetful, and his father and brother are on strike. With the adults busy with their own problems, Billy is able to keep his new activity a secret ... for awhile. When his father eventually finds out, he's furious and tells his son to quit. But Billy has to dance -- and it might even be his way to bigger and better things.
Is it any good?
This film is well above average -- tender, funny, and touching. Bell is extraordinary as Billy, and Lewis is first-rate as the father who makes an unbearably painful sacrifice in order to give his son the chance he never had. Director Stephen Daldry has a real gift for visual storytelling, and it's on display in Billy Elliot. A chase through hanging laundry, dance lessons in a boxing ring, and the opening shot of Billy on a trampoline are images that are fresh and memorable.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how the stress of painful external circumstances like can affect family members' ability to be kind to one other in Billy Elliot. Why was the strike so important to Billy's dad and brother? How was that like -- and not like -- the importance of ballet to Billy?
Why did Mrs. Wilkinson want to help Billy? Why was Billy's interest in ballet so terrifying to him? What made him change his mind? What do you think of Billy's dad's response when Billy says he's scared?
What does it tell us that Billy's father had never been out of Durham, and that Billy had never been to see Durham's famous cathedral?