An aspiring opera singer wants to become a reality TV show sensation. Based on the life of Paul Potts and experience on Britain's Got Talent.
This movie is a British yarn but it’s Hollywood boilerplate. That’s not to say that it’s 'Americanised’. Well, not exactly, though that depends on what one takes as 'American’. I’m certain that the culturally sensitive may well pick up on the odd anachronism here, which a couple of Brit reviewers have, and understandably, have jumped all over them, and the movie.
a sort of über feel-good mini-epic bio
Put it another way: it’s as English as cliché ideas of Englishness can let it be. Here there’s a love of coal smog-leaden skies and fish and chips for tea. But then it’s set in Wales, and a good whack of the story takes place in Venice. That’s the one with the canals in Italy, not California. This movie doesn’t lack tourist porn. Even the smoke stacks of the hero’s scrubbed-clean hometown in Port Talbot look pretty. It’s not the kind of picture intended to make you squirm, unless too much sweetness unsettles the stomach. Anyway, its real setting is movie-land; it’s about an underdog and pretends to be a story that is true, when in fact a lot of it seems like wishful thinking. It’s not Brit Grit then, but Billy Elliot (2000) bright.
It was directed by David Frankel, an American, who helmed The Devil Wears Prada (2006). It was written by Justin Zachham (The Bucket List), who was born in Connecticut, USA, and proves here he’s got an ear for Brit cringe deadpan (think The Office UK without the venom and you’ve got a clue.) That’s not to suggest that 'foreigners’ can’t 'do’ Englishness. But these guys’ expertise lies in pulping the hard stuff out of what’s tough in real life.
Still, I think the most important thing about One Chance is that it’s a Weinstein Company release. The brothers Weinstein, Bob and Harvey, served as executive producers. That’s significant because I reckon it explains a lot about how this movie looks and feels, the way the story begs to be liked, the way it’s out to tickle you between each set-piece of hardship that befalls its dogged hero before he attains his dream (and dreams, not the uglier and less appealing ambition, are the most important thing in this movie).
The Weinsteins are most famous for the movies they made when their company was called Miramax, a label remembered for 'cool’ pictures like Pulp Fiction (1994) or class hits like The Piano (1993). But they made money on a lot of entertaining, well-done, easy-to-digest fluff like Shakespeare in Love (1998) and the totally naff but likeable Chocolat (2000). One Chance, then, is not in the cool category.
Between the two Weinsteins, it’s Harvey who is celebrated for his marketing élan and gift for what the business likes to call 'packaging’. That’s a phrase that even casual punters now appreciate: those elements that go beyond mere story. (Which in this business theory of Hollywood is a factor of little relevance and in this movie’s case, it only proves the point.) Harvey’s also known widely amongst Hollywood’s players as a lover of what were once called crowd pleasers. Or to put it another way, he’s as gooey sentimental as puppies at Christmas. When he heard about Paul Potts – the subject of this very nice movie – Weinstein must of thought he’d hit pay dirt. That’s because as a movie idea it’s so small you can hold it in your hand, or better still, clutch to your heart. One Chance is Potts’ story, a sort of über feel-good mini-epic bio that glosses an authentic pop-culture phenomenon.
In the UK Potts is a household name. That’s mostly because in 2007 he won Britain’s Got Talent. Since then he’s sold millions of records. His performance of 'Nessun dorma’, an aria from Puccini’s opera Turandot, an audition for that show, has scored, last I looked, 118,050,961 hits on YouTube. But as the hard-sell sells, that’s not all. Potts was in financial strife when he became a TV hit, so his success was a genuine rags to riches thing. The Brit media, and apparently, the public, fell in love with this humble, chubby bloke, once bullied for his looks and his passion, who not only urgently required the services of a good dentist but whose passion seems so"¦ well, pure.
Frankel and Zachham and co. crib most of the salient facts of Potts’ life and they’ve surgically removed anything too complicated from the true story. In life, Potts was born in Bristol, has siblings and served on the City Council. He went to Italy to study music but had to bail, due to financial hardship. That suggests turmoil and contradictions but it’s not convenient for a movie that seems to aspire to what those Hollywood screenwriting books like to call a strong through-line. In the movie Paul, played by popular Brit comic James Corden, is a lonely child, a loser, who suffers from stage-fright with a bully for a dad (Colm Meaney); a doting, encouraging mother, Julie Waters, and a best friend, the brilliant Mackenzie Crook (The Office UK), who provides one-liners and encouragement at crucial moments. Paul narrates the film imaging his life as an opera but the film is pure telemovie, where the film lurches from one predictable episode toward its already known climax with only incidental pleasures as comfort: Corden lip synchs perfectly to Potts’ exquisite vocals – at least to these untrained, naïve ears. It has no suspense, but at least it’s short, and the acting, all bubbles and cuddles, fine.
The best thing about the movie, in fact its only real virtue, is that Potts’ media event has been reinvented as a love story. Alexandra Roach plays Jules, his lovely girlfriend and ultimately loyal wife. She radiates genuine warmth and feeling, and that’s infectious. Her scenes with Corden are pure notes of pleasure.