Film review: ONE CHANCE, from Built For Speed

Nick’s rating: *** ½

Genre: Drama/ Biography/Comedy

Classification: PG.

Director(s): David Frankel.

Release date: 5th Dec 2013.

Running time: 103 mins.

Who could forget the iconic viral video of Welsh opera singer Paul Potts nervously shuffling up to the microphone on Britain’s Got Talent his doleful form eliciting derisive giggles from audience and judges alike.  Seconds later as Paul launched into a stunning rendition of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, he had gloriously shattered the audience’s and the judges pre-conceptions and sets his life on a wonderful new course.  One Chance dramatises Pott’s story as he heads toward this astonishing, career-defining moment.  Not surprisingly, Once Chance is clichéd and verges on hagiography but it’s still an extremely warm, rousing and often funny movie.

Comparisons between this film and Billy Elliot are inevitable as it Pott’s (James Corden) story is transformed into a heart-warming tale of a gentle soul desperately trying to escape a brutal and demeaning environment through his chosen art.   An opera lover from childhood, Paul was viciously bullied by thugs at school and neglected by his rugby-obsessed steel worker Dad (Colm Meaney).  His Mother (Julie Walters), however, always encouraged his talent.  Despite her efforts and Paul’s remarkable voice, Paul’s chronic lack of self-confidence seemed destined to deprive him of the opera career he so desperately desired.  A life behind the counter of a mobile phone shop or on the hellish floor of the local steel mill seemed his only options. 

This film could only loosely be termed a bio-pic as script-writer Justin Zackham (The Bucket List) converts Paul’s story into an emotional button-pushing tale of triumph over adversity. Consequently, the depiction of Paul’s life is at times a little hard to believe.  He’s beset by an almost comical series of obstacles and mishaps including illness, bike accidents, a tragic meltdown in front of his hero Pavarotti while studying opera in Venice and a seemingly inescapable childhood bully who even pursues him through adulthood.

Appropriately, though, the film’s virtues win out over its failings. James Corden does a fine job as Paul making him a credible mix of decency, determination and debilitating anxiety.  He elicits genuine concern as he seems out of place wherever he goes whether it’s amid the Renaissance masterpieces and vibrant intellectual culture of Venice or the unforgiving environment of a Welsh steel mill.   Corden is well supported by Alexandrea Cooper as Paul’s very patient wife Julie-Ann, Colm Meaney as Paul’s thuggish dad and an ebullient Julie Walters as Paul’s no-nonsense mother.

The film also has some wonderful comical moments that recall Ricky Gervais’ very British brand of humour in TV shows like The Office and Extras.  This is, in part, due to the fact that the funniest scenes in One Chance feature McKenzie Crook, who played Gareth in The Office, as Paul’s drunken irresponsible, hobbit-obsessed boss.

One Chance is more concerned with character rather than spectacle, so at times it resembles a tele-movie but it does feature some gorgeous shots of Venice’s architectural and artistic wonders during Paul’s fateful time there as an opera student.

We know the outcome of the story, we know this film is manipulative and as pre-packaged as the TV talent show that spawned it but just you try not to tear up when Paul let’s rip with Nessun Dorma

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