2003, PG-13, 108 min. Directed by Nigel Cole. Starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Penelope Wilton, Philip Glenister, Ciarán Hinds, John-Paul Macleod, Celia Imrie.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 2, 2004
Calendar Girls draws its inspiration from a true incident that happened not long ago in a small town in Yorkshire, England. The film’s dynamic is sort of a distaff version of The Full Monty, minus that film’s distinct characters and steady buildup to a fun finale. Calendar Girls is predicated on popular notions about the notoriously staid British temperament and repressed sexual decorum. However, the movie tweaks the status quo without ever really challenging cultural ideas about propriety and body image. The story gets under way when Chris (Mirren) happens upon a fresh idea for her women’s group charity fundraiser. After discovering her son’s copy of Big Bazookas hidden under his bed and then later noticing a girlie calendar at her auto mechanic’s shop, Chris concludes that a naughty calendar highlighting the local club women in provocative yet discreet photos might be an ideal project for the group. At first, only her best friend Annie (Walters) is keen on the idea, but slowly the other townswomen come onboard. Most of the film’s bounce comes from watching the tentative women, one by one, warm up to the project, and then cackle with delight as they decide on the various poses. (The photos show them naked while practicing various womanly arts – baking, gardening, painting, and so on – while petals or cherries are strategically placed as cover-ups in vital areas. Risqué but not too risky.) The film also gives a sense of the women becoming more confident in their everyday bearing as they move ahead with the project. Chris is the natural leader of the group, sometimes at the expense of the feelings of Annie. Also we see Chris beginning to devote more time to the calendar than to her husband and teenage son, who is mortified by his mother’s antics. Soon enough, Jay Leno sticks his nose in and invites the women to come to Los Angeles and appear on The Tonight Show, and while there the women are seduced by new opportunities as middle-aged spokesmodels. However, any strife they undergo arrives too late in the film and is resolved too easily to create much dramatic tension. The actresses are terrific together, and it’s nice to see Helen Mirren smiling onscreen for a change. But although Calendar Girls is resolutely pleasant, the movie never really goes much beyond that.