review by Dan
Lybarger, 26 December 2003
now and then, there's a pop culture trend that gives me hope. A
British calendar featuring pictures of women past the age of 50 that
was intended to raise money to for leukemia research managed to
outsell the Britney Spears calendar in the United States. With its
lofty and successful goals in mind (nearly 500,000 British pounds
worth of these things have been purchased), it might not seem
improper that the subjects in the better selling calendar were
poses these calendar girls have taken are more quaint than
exploitative (most feature the participants cooking or playing
piano), the unusual actions taken by members of a local Women's
Institute in Yorkshire have helped demonstrate to a sadly
youth-obsessed culture that age and beauty are not mutually
exclusive and have inspired an affectionately entertaining, if
easily predictable film.
Nigel Cole is making a career out of capturing almost stereotypical
Brits losing their inhibitions in often hysterically funny ways. His
last feature, Saving Grace,
showed what a little canabis can do for a small town, so he's a
reasonable choice to demonstrate how far people might go for a good
benefits immeasurably from a talented, agreeable cast who manage to
elicit far more chuckles than the thin setup would seemingly allow.
Dame Hellen Mirren stars as Chris Harper, a middle-aged woman who
attends the monthly meetings of her Knapely, Yorkshire Women's
Institute or WI, and often wonders why she bothers. Most of the
presentations are rather dull (listeners learn more than they could
ever want to know about the history of the Milk Marketing Board or
broccoli), and the only reason she wins a baking competition is
because a store-bought dish she's brought out of desperation is
mistaken for homemade.
does give her a chance to catch up with her pal Annie Clarke (Julie
Walters). Annie needs all the support she can get because her
husband John (John Alderton) is dying of leukemia. When the disease
takes him, Chris and Annie decide that their local hospital
desperately needs a new couch. It's bad enough that people have to
watch their loved ones die, and the dilapidated furniture only makes
matters more agonizing.
local WI often uses their calendar to raise a few bucks for good
causes, but last year's volume couldn't begin to cover the cost of a
sofa, and it's doubtful the theme of this year's datebook
(vegetables) will inspire a bestseller either.
and Annie then decide to try something different. Noticing how nude
calendars seem to be dominating the walls of car repair shops, they
decide that posing for one themselves might make a bit of a stir.
They'll simply be making the same sort of poses they've always made
for a calendar except they won't have to wear clothes, and if
anything, some get intrigued by the idea of doing something that's
inconceivable for women their age.
the WI members have an amusingly difficult time trying to overcome
their obstacles through trial and error. If local prudery won't stop
them, watch them try to conquer their own inhibitions as they try to
pose. They're even afraid of letting the male photographer they've
hired (Philip Glenister) in the room.
to say, the calendar becomes an unexpected and overwhelming success.
Much of the humor comes from how the villagers react to the
publication and the seemingly reserved women who appeared in it.
Chris' son (delightfully played by John Paul Macleod), in
particular, is utterly bewildered and frustrated with his mother's
obsessive fascination with pornography. At some point, he wishes his
mother would chew him out about his pornographic magazines the way
most mums do instead of gazing at them for inspiration. In addition,
her husband Rod (Ciaran Hinds) learns that fame has an eerie
Tim Firth and Fuliett Towhidi run out of chuckles once the Yorkshire
lasses start basking in international fame. The attempts at setting
up a conflict between Chris and Annie fall flat. In some ways the
film is marred by its true life origins. A lot of the tension over
whether the Calendar girls will succeed is lost.
Mirren and Walters are thoroughly convincing lifelong buddies and
project the necessary intelligence to make their character's antics
seem as logical as they are outrageous. As a result, Chris' zeal is
as contagious as it is unusual.
temping to treat this film as a sort of female The Full Monty, where the protagonists strip to redeem themselves.
Thankfully, Calendar Girls is
funny enough in its own right to make such a comparison pointless.