April 20, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

A scrub-headed 11-year-old boy from the coal pits of northern England follows his dream of becoming a ballet dancer. Coached by a tough-talking old bird, he jetés all the way to a Royal Ballet audition, bringing his uncomprehending dad around through sheer terpsichorean nerve. What’s not to like about Billy Elliot?

Only that the film tries so bleedin’ hard to be liked. While audiences have been to this narrative well before — from The Jazz Singer to FlashdanceBilly Elliot‘s lad-in-tights gimmick and the stroppy ordinariness of its setting are real novelties. It’s a shame, then, that director Stephen Daldry goes for easy laughs, manipulative sentiment, and razzle-dazzle crosscutting, obscuring a subtle, angry, heartfelt title performance by the young Jamie Bell. Inexplicably, Daldry was Oscar-nominated for said overdirection, along with screenwriter Lee Hall and supporting actress Julie Walters (who’s solid if unspectacular). Just as inexplicably, Bell got zip.

Still, Billy Elliot‘s a crowd-pleaser, especially if you don’t mind movies that do the thinking and feeling for you. Do yourself a favor, though: Fight past the in-your-face editing and take a good, hard look at what Bell’s doing. The kid passes the audition, and then some.

110 minutes
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