Fat and bullied at school, the young Paul Potts (Ewan Austin) likes opera ... which he still sings as a teenager (Christopher Bull), to his dad's (Colm Meaney) chagrin. Once an adult (James Corden), the ever insecure Paul is too scared to meet the girl he has had a textual relationship for a year, and it takes his friend (Mackenzie Crook) to arrange a meeting. She turns out to be the delightful Julie-Ann Cooper (Alexandra Roach), a Cardiff check-out assistant with a heart as big as his. With her encouragement, Paul enters a local talent quest and uses his winnings to study at a famous opera school in Venice - until a disastrous audition for Pavarotti sends him into a deep funk. Facing the prospect of having to join his father at the steelworks, Paul is once more urged by Julie-Ann to keep trying, and on the toss of a coin, enters Britain's Got Talent quest, his nerves forever jingling. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
I remember watching Paul Potts on YouTube, when his singing of Nessun Dorma from Turandot on Britain's Got Talent went viral. It was a profoundly emotional experience and tears dripped onto my keyboard as I watched. The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel elicits exactly the same response in the re-enactment of the unlikely rags to riches story of the chubby working class boy from Wales who has always wanted to sing but lack of confidence (and other unforeseen issues) get in the way. The Port Talbot setting is not dissimilar to that of Sheffield in The Full Monty and screenwriter Justin Jackham (The Bucket List) weaves together a rich, complex tale akin to an opera that is filled with drama, humour and pathos. The film is wonderful: uplifting, funny, tense and moving all at once.
The early scenes introduce us to Paul aged 9 and 14, when his plump physique, choirboy status and love for singing attract an ongoing merry-go-round of bullying and singing. A bit like Billy Elliott. Adulthood is no different and Paul (James Corden) struggles with his self-esteem and relationship with his steel-worker father (Colm Meaney). Julie Walters is solid as his supportive mum. The tone of the film however, is set from the outset with humorous asides and irreverence, while Braddon (superbly played by comedian Mackenzie Crook), the quirky mobile phone shop manager where Paul works, elevates the film by several notches.
Braddon's punk girlfriend Hydrangea (Jemima Rooper) is also a hoot. As Paul's check-out girlfriend Julz, who he meets online, Alexandra Roach is especially good, bringing great texture and depth with a similar veracity as a young Pauline Collins back in the day of Shirley Valentine. There are some lovely moments between them - like the scene when he sings for her for the first time and the hilarious sequence in which he queues as if he were a customer in the shop where she works, for a chance to speak to her.
As a star vehicle, the film offers a perfect stairway to paradise for James Corden, who is perfect in the role. He is gawky and uncool with a tangible sincerity and when he smiles to reveal the famous chipped teeth and bad dental work, there is something quite endearing about him. The lip synching is very good - as it needs to be - and the scenes in Venice when Paul is selected to sing for Pavarotti offer tension, the allure of romance as well as some gorgeous shots of the City of Water. To steal the audience's heart, nerves of a thief are required, the great Maestro proffers.
The journey along the road headed for Britain's Got Talent is a bumpy one filled with giant rocks rather than stones, and by the time Paul reaches the studios ready to perform, it does not matter one iota that we know the outcome. We are all strongly rooting for him and have invested in him throughout the course of the film. Yes, the filmmakers press all the right buttons at the right time and of course the drama of the music adds that extra element, making this an uplifting and rousing experience.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A hero's journey on an operatic scale, One Chance brings together a wonderful, beneficial cinematic storm of a great story, superbly cast & performed and directed with exactly the right balance of heart and tension. Even knowing the outcome, we are held in the grip of David Frankel's masterly direction throughout (not to mention Justin Zackham's screenplay). The outcome, of course, is the film's emotional climax, which millions have already seen in real life, either on TV or YouTube. But no, I won't go into the details here ... Suffice to say, it's a satisfying, moving and uplifting story that shows the complexity of human nature and its resilience, without the triumphalism that might have damaged the film.
If ever there was a real world version of the ugly duckling who turns into a beautiful swan, this would be the closest you get. The chubby kid who (like Billy Elliott was for dancing) is ridiculed and bullied in his working class Welsh neighbourhood, has a great natural talent to sing - not pop or rock, but big songs, from opera. Not enough to be tormented by earthlings, the gods conspire to torment him from afar, with a variety of hazards and smackdowns. He even loses his voice ...
As the story is told here (no doubt truthfully), much of his resilience comes from the support of his loving mother (Julie Walters) and especially from the big hearted, grounded and loving Julie-Ann Cooper, played with astonishing veracity and warmth by Alexandra Roach. He needs these supporters to counteract his natural insecurity and lack of confidence - characteristics that match in the negative what his natural voice offers in the positive.
The film's unfailingly down to earth tone ensures that the journey and the challenges as much as the triumph are treated with sincerity and a welcome absence of schmaltz or false sentiment. Hell, it doesn't need any false sentiment when it's so rich with real thing. Even cynics will tear up.
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ONE CHANCE (PG)
CAST: James Corden, Alexandra Roach, Mackenzie Crook, Julie Walters, Colm Meaney, Jemima Rooper, Kathryn Drysdale, Simon Cowell, Ewan Austin, Christopher Bull
PRODUCER: Simon Cowell, Mchael Menchel, Kris Thykier, Harvey Weinstein, Brad Weston
DIRECTOR: David Frankel
SCRIPT: Justin Zackham
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Florian Ballhaus
EDITOR: Wendy Greene Bricmont
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Martin Childs
RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 28, 2013