Written by: Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi
Directed by: Nigel Cole
Starring: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, Linda Bassett, CiarÃ¡n Hinds, Annette Crosbie
- Featurettes: “The Naked Truth,” “Creating the Calendar”
- Deleted Scenes
Released by: Buena Vista
My Advice: Catch it on cable.
What would possess respectable middle-aged ladies of the Women’s Institute, a British organization devoted to arts and crafts and charity, to pose nude for a calendar? It all started when long-time member Annie (Walters) is dealing with her husband’s leukemia. Her best friend Chris (Mirren) is right beside her through the ordeal. She discovers how uncomfortable the sofa is in the hospital waiting room. Chris wants the WI to purchase a new couch in Annie’s husband memory. Unfortunately sofas aren’t cheap and the main WI fundraiser, a calendar with pictures of lovely if unexciting country scenes, doesn’t raise much in the way of funds. Chris suddenly has a rather unorthodox idea. She’ll have the ladies perform the usual activities of the WI–baking, knitting, gardening, etc.–in the nude. She gets a talented (if reluctant) photographer and several public-spirited (if reluctant) friends, adds several bottles of red wine and magic ensues. What’s surprising, besides getting the nude shots done, is that the tasteful and playful calendar is a runaway hit. The fame hits with full force and Chris and the girls are riding high. But fame can be dangerous, so will media exposure break up the Calendar Girls?
The tale of the WI calendar girls is a wonderful story about giving of yourself to help others and how women donâ€™t have to be anorexic twenty-year-old slut-queens to be attractive. But the screenwriters obviously didnâ€™t think that was enough. So subplots are started, like Chrisâ€™ son having a fit over his mother exposing herself and one of the calendar girls discovering her husband is having an affair. But nothing is done with these threads and theyâ€™re left hanging. And the third part, where the girls get the five-star treatment in Hollywood for an appearance on The Jay Leno Show, feels tacked on at the last minute. Seeing these sensible mature women acting like giggling schoolgirls in L.A. throws the whole movie off-kilter. Frankly, I do not see how having the girls meeting the heavy metal group Anthrax adds anything to the story. But when the movie focuses on the main story, it does work.
Mirren and Walters really do seem like old friends in the classic dynamic of the adventurous one and the sensible one. Itâ€™s Chris who loudly defends the calendar to the national WI assembly after Annie falters, but it is Annie who brings Chris back to earth after the fame goes to her head. All the ladies look and feel real, so refreshing with The Swan and that ditz Jessica Simpson dominating media at the moment. That this movie was made at all, even if its message gets muddled along the way, is deserving of a viewing.
The features on the disc aren’t very illuminating. In the featurette “The Naked Truth,” the actual Calendar Girls are interviewed about their experiences and the reactions of having a movie made about them. What’s the most interesting is that the names of the participants and even the village are changed in the movie. In the other featurette, “Creating the Calendar,” the actresses remark on being naked on camera, something many have not done in their careers. In many ways, their experience was similar to the original groups…including the involvement of alcohol. There are a few deleted scenes presented without comment. The scene with the girls playing the piano with Anthrax is surreal. While the extras aren’t bad, they don’t really add much to the movie or your understanding of it. All in all, Calendar Girls is cute, but lacks that comedic sparkle. I’d wait to catch it on cable.
If you want more information on United Kingdom’s Leukemia Research, the organization that the Calendar donated its profits to, go to www.lrf.org.uk.