I know I was probably the last person on the planet to see this movie a few months ago, so I'm sure that everyone is quite familiar with the central plot: a boy defies his working class background and macho father and brother by enrolling in a ballet class run by a gruff, no bullshit teacher. As with most films about people overcoming class boundaries (and since it is, to a certain extent, an inspirational teacher drama), I was quite taken with Billy Elliot. The film could have been total cheeseball inspiration but, thanks to Daldry and star Jamie Bell, it is anything but that. I was also extremely taken with the unusual relationship between Billy and his little gay friend Michael (which I briefly mentioned here); the part when Billy leaves Michael to head off to school broke my heart. If Billy Elliot had ended here, I would have loved the film a lot more. I was ready to give it an A-, but then that thing Daldry's calls an ending came on and I instantly downgraded it to a B.
First, let me describe the ending in case your memory's a little fuzzy. Billy's father and brother are rushing from the London subway to catch Billy in his big ballet production. They reach it in the nick of time and are settling into their seats when the brother realizes that they're sitting next to Michael (and someone were supposed to assume is his boyfriend?). They talk uncomfortably for a couple of seconds, Michael says something about "not missing this for the world" and then it cuts to backstage with a grown up Billy getting prepared to leap out on stage. And then it ends. Now let's analyze all of the ways this ending bites the big one.
- Where is Mrs. Wilkinson (Dame Julie Walters)? This is actually my biggest annoyance with this ending. Essentially, Billy Elliot is an inspirational teacher drama and, although I can accept the fact that it's trying to ignore the clichés of the subgenre, but sometimes we need those clichés. They're there for a reason and when we don't get them, we feel cheated. At the end of every inspirational teacher drama, we have to get the scene where the teacher sees that all of her hard work and sacrifice has paid off when the pupil realizes their dream. Without this moment, the rest of the film has basically been for nothing.
- We don't get the reaction shots from Billy's father, brother and Michael The film completely stops as soon as Billy takes the stage, so that doesn't give anytime to see what the three characters react to how amazing of a dancer Billy has become. Damnit, I just need to see the father tear up or something. Is that too much to ask Stephen Daldry?
- The inclusion of Michael This choice left me completely puzzled. Why would you include Michael in the scene and not Mrs. Wilkinson? His fond farewell to Billy just a few minutes ago- complete with a touching kiss- was perfect, non? Does he really need to be there at the performance? Anything Daldry is going to show would never live up to this earlier scene and what he does end up showing doesn't work at all. I can see that he's trying to show how Michael has grown up and become who he wanted to be, all thanks to Billy's courage, but it just seems totally unneccessary at this point. In all honesty, who cares about Michael's transformation; we want Billy.
- The awkward interaction between Billy's family and Michael Seriously, do Billy's father and brother think their going to catch the gay virus by having a simple conversation with Michael? Was it really that shocking to see him dressed up like Boy George and with another man? I mean, Michael was as flaming as a kid could be in a small, working class English village.
What makes this ending all the more horrible is the fact that they had the perfect ending beforehand and completely ruined it. The shots of Billy's family and Mrs. Wilkinson, stuck in their exact same situations with little chance of escaping, juxtaposed with Billy first arriving at the ballet academy, finally escaping his working class surroundings, subtly hit the message home. Add to that Michael and Billy's goodbye and it became absolutely perfect. This "real" ending feels tacked on and makes little sense in the context of the film or the subgenre.
For more wonderful entries on the endings on a multitude of different films, check out the main page of J.D.'s Endings Blog-a-thon over at Valley Dreamin'