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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.
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.