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by: Scott Renshaw

Review by Michael Dequina. While Fox Searchlight is pushing the modest Irish comedy Waking Ned Devine as this year's The Full Monty, a more interesting--but no less shameless--crowdpleaser from the British Isles is sneaking onto the marketplace: Little Voice, an admittedly formulaic little trifle that is made meatier by the personalities of its performers.

The title character (Jane Horrocks), nicknamed "L.V.", is a soft-spoken young woman who spends her days and nights listening to her late, beloved father's old record collection, much to the chagrin of her boozy floozy mother Mari (Brenda Blethyn). Through listening to the likes of Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey, the meek L.V. has developed quite a big singing voice of her own, catching the ear of one of Mari's greasy lovers, Ray Say (Michael Caine). A wildly unsuccessful talent agent, Ray sees L.V. as his long-awaited ticket to the big time.

Writer-director Mark Herman's script, based on Jim Cartwright's play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, goes through predictable, pedestrian paces, with Mari and Ray attempting to exploit L.V.'s gift without paying attention to her needs as a person. (The only person who pays much attention to her is kind, pigeon-raising telephone worker Billy, played by Ewan McGregor.) But what makes the film consistently engaging is its lead trio of characters. Caine and especially Blethyn are a hoot, exuding the right mix of sleaze, sexuality, selfishness, and even sympathy; the power of Ray's climactic breakdown comes as a bit of a shock.

But the star of the film, as it should be, is indeed Horrocks, recreating her acclaimed stage role. She is quite simply remarkable, equally convincing speaking in a mousy murmur and belting "Big Spender" with the full-throttle lungs of a true diva. Horrocks, amazingly enough, not only did her own singing, she did it all live on the set, with no pre-recorded help. Quiet or loud, hers is the voice that clearly rings throughout--and should be heard among the nominees on Oscar night.

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