Calendar Girls

The latest fad in movies seems to be having "older" women drop trou. Kathy Bates did it in About Schmidt, then Diane Keaton did so in Something's Gotta Give, and now, Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, and a host of other British women go naked (they prefer nude) for a fundraising calendar. Calendar Girls is inspired by the true story of a group of women in Yorkshire, who decided to pose naked for their local Women's Institute calendar to raise money for leukemia research. The calendar was a worldwide hit, mainly because of the story behind the calendar. This movie retelling is just as enjoyable, and falls directly in line with the steady stream of small, quirky British comedies that come here every year.

Calendar Girls focuses primarily on Chris (Mirren, Last Orders, Gosford Park) and Annie (Julie Walters, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Before You Go), two longtime friends and the main people behind the idea for the calendar. They are both members of the Women's Institute, but find their monthly lectures on broccoli and rugs extremely boring. When Annie's husband John (John Alderton, Mrs. Caldicot's Cabbage War, Clockwork Mice) dies from cancer, they have an idea for a calendar where they pose nude, except for strategically placed everyday objects. Of course, the Women's Institute officials abhor the idea, so Chris and Annie need to go about their plan in secret. They enlist their friends, who now have to worry about how they will appear, what others will think, and how to go about finding a photographer.

This section of Calendar Girls is its best. Director Nigel Cole (Saving Grace) and writers Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi (A Secret Audience) infuse the script with a gentle, warm sense of humor. They do not mock the fact that these women are nude, but they play up the humor surrounding it. The women themselves are laughing at their predicament, and the audience is laughing right along with them, and not at them. And Mirren and Walters are delightful. Cole portrays them as mischievous, feisty friends. The opening scenes of the movie show them giggling incessantly at the dullness of their meetings. Annie got the idea for the calendar after hearing John compare the women of Yorkshire to the flowers of Yorkshire; both are most beautiful during their last stages. So Chris and Annie are off and running, rounding up their friends and having a merry old time. Their spirit makes them much younger than they appear, and their sheer fun is infectious.

Calendar Girls falters by adding on an unnecessary third and trying too hard to incorporate some more serious elements into the film. Presumably, this was to make the women's achievements greater, but the seriousness intrudes upon the lightheartedness of the film. The scenes in Hollywood show the women dealing with fame, and how they may have lost sight of the real purpose of the calendar, replacing it with a desire for fame and wealth. This is a perfectly reasonable turn in the film, but feels greatly out of place with the rest of Calendar Girls. The same is true for subplots about tabloids and a cheating husband. It makes the viewer forget the charm of the film. Cole should have spent more time on trying to get the calendar made. Yes, there were problems there too, but they were the kind that seemed bad but it was certain they would be overcome. In fact, the emotional peak comes when it becomes clear how popular the calendar was. Anything that happened after that is like a different movie, and in a perfect world, would be gone from the script.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG-13 for nudity, some language, and drug-related material.

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