Although "Liam" does start off seeming like the cinematic offspring of "Angela's Ashes" and "Billy Elliot", I thought it was more enjoyable than either of those two films. Unfortunately, director Stephen Frears'("High Fidelity") film still has some problems of its own. The film revolves around the struggling, working-class Sullivans, who live in Liverpool in the 30's. There's Liam (Anthony Burrows in a fine debut), sister Teresa (Megan Burns in a really strong performance), Dad (Ian Hart) and Mum (Claire Hackett).
The film starts off rather happily, but then turns rather somber. After a New Year's Eve celebration (complete with what could be described as a "song fight"), things start to go downhill. Dad loses his job at the local mill and is forced to look for other employment; Teresa is forced to work at the home of a local family, who takes her in kindly but has secrets of their own and Liam is scared speechless (he stutters even worse than usual) by the Catholic school teacher, who intensely goes on about what happens if you sin.
The picture suffers from an unusually short running time. Although it may have had different versions in all of the festival screenings its gone to throughout the year that its toured, the 88 minute version that I saw didn't particularly develop characters as well as the film could have. The father begins the film as a rather calm and happy fellow, but turns far darker after he loses his job, becoming an angry lunatic towards the ending. Most of "Liam" felt rather tough to sit through and I think had characters been developed further, I would have been more invested in the picture.
The performances are really quite good and do deserve notice, I simply wish that the material was filled out a bit more to give some more character depth and make the film flow a bit smoother. The film isn't completely dreary, as there are some mildly funny moments - although the humor does feel somewhat awkwardly squeezed in.
Technically, the film looks terrific, with fine cinematography and a respectable sense of period. Still, I think many will feel as if they've seen this before. I certainly didn't really dislike "Liam", as I thought the performers really did try their best and the film captured the look of the time well. Yet, I didn't feel the film's story and characters were as well-developed as I would have liked.
Final Thoughts: A slight recommendation; those who liked "Angela's Ashes" or are in the mood for arthouse fare will likely find it enjoyable as a matinee. Others should probably skip or wait till for rental.