It's impossible to watch uplifting underdog story One Chance and not think of Billy Elliot. The plucky hero in this case isn't a ballet dancing boy, but rather the real life Paul Potts, the cell phone salesman turned Pavarotti-esque opera singer who won Britain's Got Talent and became an instant sensation. The film is endearing and tough to dislike as so many of these Brit crowd-pleasers tend to be, but it's constructed in such a by-the-numbers fashion that it makes Potts' story seem like a work of fiction.
Comic James Corden, who only resembles Potts in terms of size, does a surprisingly good job as the South Wales chap who overcame bullying, a less-than-supportive father (Colm Meaney), and a severe lack of confidence to embrace his love of opera, despite being bullied mercilessly for it. The film breezes much too quickly through pretty much every aspect of his life, as if producer Simon Cowell had designed it to be a fill-in episode of one of his many talent-based shows. Potts works in the Carphone Warehouse alongside his RPG-loving best friend Bradden (Mackenzie Crook), but despite his rapturous voice that everyone loves, his lack of self-confidence prevents him taking it any further. He finds that extra boost in Julie-Ann (the lovely and genuine Alexandra Roach), the online girlfriend he'd been too scared to meet in the flesh. Nicknaming one another 'Brad Pitt' and 'Cameron Diaz', their relationship becomes a guide post for Potts, even as his journey takes him to Venice and a performance in front of his idol, Luciano Pavarotti.
The film takes full advantage of every opportunity to tug at your heartstrings and feel for Potts, who it seems can't stay out of the hospital bed for any manner of physical ailment. Dressing like a sad clown to perform Pagliacci in front of a rowdy hometown crowd, Potts floors them with his unlikely voice; an early achievement that helped set him on his path. But every time he's about to take the next step something awful occurs, like a terminal bout of stage fright, or a burst appendix before a major show, or getting hit by a car. These are only given enough emotional weight to earn our sympathy and pity, but even if you've never heard of Potts (as I hadn't) how this story turns out won't come as a surprise.
Directed with workmanlike efficiency by David Frankel, who will perhaps always be known as the guy who helmed The Devil Wears Prada, the film finds a winning formula in the combination of Corden and Roach. The Tony award-winning actor acquits himself well as Potts, lip-syncing to his powerful voice and capturing his warm-hearted spirit. Some may recognize Roach as the teenaged Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, and she shows a different sort of strength and sturdiness here. In a film that doesn't stretch much beyond formula, their relationship is one that we want to get that storybook happy ending.