Paul Potts embodies all that is good about TV talent shows. Not blessed with the looks of Brad Pitt, the opera singer from Port Talbot was rejected out of hand by music professionals before the public voted him the winner of Britain's Got Talent in 2007. He is certainly not the type of guy to have a movie made about him. It’s not like he’s Pol Pot, as the joke – played twice in an otherwise hilarious introduction to the singer - goes.
After a brief, schmaltzy preface set in 1985 when the nine-year-old Potts ruptures his eardrum and is bullied at school for being fat and liking opera, the film starts in earnest with a voiceover in which Potts tells us that he always wanted to sing and that his life has been an endless cycle of music, drama and comedy. It’s now 2004 and Potts (James Corden) is still living at home. His dad hates him singing opera, he is still scared of the school bully and he has been texting a girl for a year, but has never plucked up the courage to actually meet her. An acerbic Mackenzie Crook, playing his best friend and boss at Carphone Warehouse, eventually arranges for Paul to meet the girl who describes herself as a Cameron Diaz doppelganger. When she turns out to be Julie Ann-Cooper (Alexandra Roach), a Cardiff check-out assistant, Potts is rather relieved. A great first date, featuring a torch, an accidental encounter with Paul’s mum and a pub quiz, follows.
The director David Frankel has a patchy track record - The Devil Wears Prada sits alongside The Big Year on his resume - but he must be commended for the superb way he weaves Britain’s Got Talent into his film. He tells the story with broad strokes and doesn’t mind inventing fictions when it helps to move the story along. The film works best when the action plays to Corden’s comedic strengths. He brings out some real belly laughs and his love story with Roach is heart-warming enough to provide plenty of goodwill from the audience when the action veers off course – in Italy.
When Potts goes to Venice, some serious stereotypes are trotted out - most notably a big fat mama and brothers willing to break your legs. A montage in which Potts sings with the beautiful Alessandra (Valeria Bilelo) runs like a Venetian tourist board commercial. When it ends badly and when Paul returns back to Port Talbot, there is another tonal shift. Asked to show his acting chops and play depressed, Corden doesn’t quite hit the mark. The film seems to want to ape the dramatic arc of an opera but it never quite succeeds in this ambition. Still, you don’t need to be a Paul Potts fan to be consumed and amused by this charming tale.