The competing forces in the bittersweet Little Voice are a microcosm of the ways the music industry intersects with everyday life. There's the recipient of the music, that solitary fan joyfully singing along with a favorite recording. Then there's the commercial side of that equation, where talent is fused with ambition in order to create a commodity for the marketplace.
Poor LV (Jane Horrocks) is caught between the two. A young woman whose extreme shyness borders on the debilitating, she barely makes a sound -- hence her nickname Little Voice -- preferring to hide out in her room and listen to her late father's vinyl records. Her reticence is an understandable response to the constant stream of blather emitted by her mother, Mari (Brenda Blethyn), whose voice is as outsized as her ambitions and as loud as her tacky clothing.
When Mari hooks up with low-rent talent agent Ray Say (Michael Caine), it seems like the union of fun-loving and self-deluding kindred spirits. Then Ray hears LV sing, and everything changes.
LV is an uncanny mimic, who sings as if possessed by the voices of sad chanteuses and movie queens: the ferocious pain of Judy Garland, the sultry swagger of Shirley Bassey, the world-weary offhandedness of Marlene Dietrich, the breathy hesitancy of Marilyn Monroe. While LV uses these voices to cope in her intensely insular world, Ray sees her as his ticket out of the entertainment backwater, and their desires are set on a collision course.
Writer-director Mark Herman has retained a theaterlike quality to the film, where nothing seems to exist beyond the action of the characters. Indeed, the northern England seaside town of Scarborough seems all but deserted, which adds an immediacy to this story of fringe dwellers.
What's most intriguing about Little Voice is that LV's success derives from her dead-on impersonations of the already famous, not what she can express with her own individual voice. In this sense, she's the perfect embodiment of the appropriation aesthetic of the late 20th century, where Elvis impersonators command the same devotion as the real thing.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.