2005, PG-13, 107 min. Directed by Julian Jarrold. Starring Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jemima Rooper, Nick Frost, Linda Bassett, Sarah-Jane Potts.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 19, 2006
In the beginning, there was the boot. Before couture, awash in the great unshod masses, the boot arrived, allowing for less obvious paths to be undertaken and more aesthetically arresting designs to be planned, plotted, and lived. A world without John Fluevog? Manolo Blahnik? Dr. Martens? Chuck, for God's sake, Taylor? A duller world if not a better one. A world perhaps not so sure of its footing. This is the lesson – one of several – of the British import Kinky Boots, which, despite a title that will likely have it flying off video-store shelves the world over, will surely disappoint the legions of high-top-clad teen males mistaking it for some outré, Euro sex romp that somehow snagged a lenient PG-13 rating. It's nothing of the sort at all, but if you've seen The Full Monty (or Waking Ned Devine or Calendar Girls or Billy Elliot) then this film's surprises will be few and far between, although no less pleasant for it. It's difficult to make a film so ingratiating and unashamedly bountiful in its clichés without also making it a snooze for those of us who know what's coming – pretty much anyone with a knack for Obvious Plotting 101 – but Jarrold, a staple of British television, manages it with no small aid from his fine cast (including Shaun of the Dead's Nick Frost as a factory-floor cad). Based on a true story, as far as that goes, Jarrold's lengthy lesson in tolerance centers on Charlie (Edgerton), who inherits his beloved father's boot and shoe factory after dear old Dad drops dead. It's not to his taste to automatically embrace the family business, but he comes around just in time to realize that the company is on the verge of going belly-up in any case. While scads of this English industrial town's residents depend on the company for their livelihood, it's equally clear that globalization has knocked them clear out of the running. Prodded by felicitous tomboy (and soon-to-be love interest) Lauren (Wonderland's Potts), Charlie discovers a bountiful niche market when he teams up with black transvestite Lola (Ejiofor), whose cross-dressing London cabaret is desperately in need of the titular, saucy footwear that's difficult to fine in a size 12EEE. Can this corporate match made in screenwriter heaven turn Charlie's prospects around? Will the conservative Northern England townsfolk shed their petty prejudices and welcome their incoming fashionista with anything more than muttered slurs? Will Potts' dimples consume her entire face, leaving nothing but a Cheshire grin hovering ominously in the air? Why ask why? Just do it! That's the real message on display here: rebranding a product with a hint of transgression makes all the difference in a global marketplace. Well, that and "Black transvestites are people, too, and deserve to be respected, especially when they've got it all over you, stylewise." Trite? Sure. Obvious? And then some. But a lesson to be taken to heart nonetheless, and from there, one hopes, to the nearest cobbler.