Loosely based on a true story and set in Knapely, a small town in rural Yorkshire, Calendar Girls is the tale of a group of middle-aged (and beyond) women who decide to pose nude for a calendar to raise money to buy a sofa for their local hospital’s waiting room. Chris (Helen Mirren) and Annie (Julie Waters) instigate the scheme, partly as a response to the stodginess of their local women’s club and partly as a tribute to Annie’s husband, who recently died of leukemia in said hospital. The calendar becomes an unexpected nationwide success, raising about $1 million. Soon the ladies are off to Hollywood to appear on the Jay Leno show.
It gives me no particular pleasure (or grief) to drop-kick yet another cute cinematic puppy, but this thing is so slight that it’s already a vague memory, and I saw it less that 24 hours ago. Everybody in it seems to be better than the material, especially Mirren, who’s pro enough to do a dead-on Northern England accent and to convincingly squeeze out a tear toward the end over some desultory plot point.
The first two-thirds of the movie move along in a comfortably predictable fashion, with the whole nude calendar thing being novel enough and the characters charming enough to lull you into an uncritical response. But the last third is all wonky and contrived. By the end, all I could think was what I thought after seeing The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine and similarly warmhearted fare from across the pond: Didn’t British comedy used to be witty? Didn’t their fabled national self-consciousness give their humor an ironic flavor that was years ahead of everyone else? How did it come about that Brit-com has become a repository for clichéd jokes and feel-good messages? It’s as if, in the years since the Ealing studio classic comedies of the early ’50s, the Brits have gotten more in touch with their feelings and lost some of that famous reserve. If so, it’s a bloody shame.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].
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