The feel-good, British import "Billy Elliot" has all the trappings of a jerk-around-your-heartstrings, melodramatic movie - a sensitive young boy grappling with his mother's death who wants to be a ballet dancer; a disapproving father; and a poor, coal-mining town ripped apart by a strike.
But surprisingly, this coming-of-age film that has been optimistically touted as the next "The Full Monty," doesn't toy with audiences' emotions too much.
There only are a handful of unbearably ham-fisted scenes in "Billy Elliot" likely to inspire wild eye-rolling and cynical snickering among moviegoers.
The Brit-flick is otherwise sweet and touching, largely due to the stellar performances by its cast, especially the now-14-year-old Jamie Bell, who shines in the title role.
The feature-film debut of director Stephen Daldry - who made his mark doing London theater - "Billy Elliot" tells the tale of an 11-year-old growing up in a northern England industrial town during the 1984 coal-miners' strike. While Dad and brother are agitating on the picket line, the good-natured Billy shuttles between school, caring for his grandmother and going to boxing classes that he hates.
But one day after his boxing lesson, Billy discovers girls in tutus dancing on the other side of the gym. Enthralled, Billy wanders over and soon is sucked into tying on ballet slippers and practicing plies. Of course, his rough-and-tumble father (Gary Lewis) and brother (Jamie Draven) can't believe little Billy is a "poof," and the boy has to resort to taking secret lessons from his teacher to prepare for an audition for the Royal Ballet School.
The movie has some genuinely moving scenes, particularly one in which Billy's crusty, chain-smoking teacher (1983 Oscar nominee Julie Walters) reads a letter the boy's mother wrote on her death bed.
But the many manipulatively tear-jerking or suspenseful scenes overshadow these gems. Why, for example, must we watch Billy spend an agonizing couple of minutes staring at a notification letter he receives from the Royal Ballet School when it becomes obvious early in the movie that the script will not allow for an unhappy ending?
Equally puzzling is the fact that the snooty Royal Ballet School board admits Billy, even though his audition dance seemed more akin to a raw take on "Riverdance" than a polished piece a la "Swan Lake."
However, the performances of Bell, Walters and Lewis make this movie worth seeing - as long as you silence your cynical side and bring some Kleenex.
Starring Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Gary Lewis
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Released by Universal Pictures
Running time 104 minutes
Rated R (adult language)
Sun score: **