Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Calendar Girls is a pleasant show with some honest emotion and good laughs. It's a film
for adults that "exploits with integrity" the real story of some spunky, slightly North of
middle-age ladies who used some nervy self-promotion for a good cause. It's been called a
"female style The Full Monty,"
which doesn't do it justice and perhaps hurt its boxoffice in a copycat sense. It is a
Helen Mirren movie however, and that's almost always an invitation to a superior good time.
A small branch of a national women's club in Yorkshire is stagnant with dull
activities and a yearly calendar drive that never breaks even, or at least that's the opinion of
adventurous members Chris (Helen Mirren) and Annie (Julie Walters). Annie's husband succumbs
to cancer, leading Chris to propose a radical method to raise some money for the hospital by
making the calendar project a success: do the same kinds of home-culture subjects,
but for each month feature a different member posed in the nude.
Attitude is what makes a concept cute or trashy, and Calendar Girls has enough charm and
good taste to easily clear the exploitation hurdle. The real story of the local ladies who made
international news didn't need hype, and the makers of this charming light comedy ensure that
it will appeal to the stuffiest ladies who get dragged to it by their more adventurous friends.
The story works a tad too hard to find levels of relevance in the notoriety that follows the
success of the calendar. Besides the glamour going to the heads of individual participants there
are interesting consequences to several marriages. and a mini-crisis with a teenaged son who
can't handle the idea of a mother with a sexual identity - or is that just a mother with a body?
Even the widow whose dead husband inspired the calendar has her own questions to face - does she
feed too happily from the thousands of sympathy cards she receives?
None of this interferes with the story's through-line any more than does the fast and predictable
showbiz sequence which finds several calendar ladies flitting to a week of luxury and attention
in Hollywood. We enjoy their break from Cornwall into the fast lane; it's a Great Escape-like
environmental change that allows them to take stock of themselves.
Helen Mirren and Julie Walters (Billy Elliott, Educating Rita) play a fun pair of
ladies who are by no means saints or righteous libertines. Mirren's Chris is a somewhat reckless
prankster who courts disaster by entering a storebought cake in a community contest and is almost
found out. 1
The other "girls" have amusing and fairly unpredictable reactions to the idea of a nude calendar
and its execution. How to have a male cameraman shoot the pictures without seeing anything is a
funny problem. It's solved only when the women accept him as an artist and not a voyeur.
The ladies of Cornwall weren't charity cases and viewers who like scenery will love the little
town they live in and the almost universally "nice" people they interact with. Their local club
president is a priss and part of the time is saddled with the tag of villain, which is to be
expected. "We don't do nudity!" is the dismissive decision of the national club brass after
the printing has been done and the money spent, but Chris manages a way to get the calendars out.
The best scene in the picture is a press meeting (for a calendar they'd promised would be kept local
and quiet!) that seems to be a no-show disaster, followed by at least twenty minutes of feel-good
fun with the news media and the trip to Hollywood. I recognized all the Hollywoodian locations
in the show but believe me, unless you're a guest at the Beverly Hills Hotel and traveling
exclusively by limo, the L.A. experience really isn't like this ... except for the obnoxious and
soul-less commercial director the film pictures. He's completely accurate.
Ladies concerned that Calendar Girls might be disturbing are going to be pleasantly
surprised. There are some nice thoughts offered here on the possibility of unremarkable and even
plain women growing old with dignity and grace, especially since the film has chosen such a nice
selection of charming ladies as its calendar girls. Since the upscale town they live in seems to
have no social ills regarding race, drugs or real crime, this will be embraced as the kind of
harmless and unchallenging entertainment that our mothers have missed at the movies. All except
for that taking off one's clothes business ...
Touchstone's DVD of Calendar Girls looks fine, as almost all new picture do on DVD. Savant's
taste runs to older fare so I'm often surprised at how pristine and beautiful new movies can look
- no scratches, funky audio or fuzzy grain.
The extras will be just what the curious want to see, one docu on the real story given the not
particularly creative title The Naked Truth, and another show about filming the calendar
seen in the movie. There is also a selection of deleted scenes to mull over.
Menus and artwork make good use of the emblematic sunflower poeticized in the movie. The only
bizarre thing about the packaging is the cover illustration of a demure woman holding a
calendar over her chest. Look closely - her upper arms are ridiculously long!
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Calendar Girls rates:
Supplements: Two docus, deleted scenes
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 18, 2004
1. I guess it's time to
fess up in regard to Ms. Mirren - one of the first R-rated films I saw with nudity was Michael
Powell's Age of Consent, in which Helen (aged 24) played what could be described as a slightly
plump but nubile Australian teenager who did a lot of nude swimming over the Great Barrier Reef.
Helen Mirren hasn't made keeping her clothes on a firm rule of film work and has still managed the
highest of reputations as a class actress, gracing such terrific genre work as The Long Good
Friday and Prime Suspect.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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