A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 264 – Calendar Girls

Calendar Girls – November 19th, 2010

After last night’s rage-fest we wanted very much to watch something that would make us happy. Something we could thoroughly enjoy. Something that wouldn’t make us tense or irritated or angry. Something made with the purpose of putting a smile on the face of anyone who watches it. And while this movie certainly has its sad bits, overall it is expressly intended to be a feel-good comedy. It also has the side effect of making me want to move to England, but a good many British movies do that, as did The Avengers (tv show, not the hideous modern adaptation movie that made me so very sad) and a good cup of tea. Anyhow, I did not come out of this movie pissed off. A little teary-eyed and certainly smiling, yes.

The teary-eyed comes from the purpose behind the calendar that is the center of the movie. After the death of the husband of one of the main characters, her best friend comes up with the idea of swapping out the annual craft-and-church photo calendar put out by the local Women’s Institute with a calendar featuring tasteful nudes. Of the women in the Women’s Institute. Who are all getting on in years, over 40 certainly, over 50 for more than a few. Of course it’s terribly scandalous for them all to do this and they’re all a little hesitant about it. Except Chris, who came up with the idea in the first place. And eventually they get enough ladies to do the whole year’s worth of photos and shoot the calendar, planning on donating all the money they raise towards buying a new sofa for the relatives’ lounge at the local hospital. It’s a touching sentiment and the movie does have a focus on it that works quite well at getting you sniffling.

The rest of the movie is about the lives of the women who participated and what happens to them after news about the calendar spreads and they suddenly find themselves in the papers all over the place and even across the pond in the US. On one hand, it’s fantastic, because the more they sell the more money they raise and they didn’t even expect it to really be a huge success even locally. On the other hand, the bigger it all gets the more they all get wrapped up in it, especially Chris, who’s very much enjoying having done something big and successful, to the detriment of her home life. Her son’s mortified by the whole thing and starts acting out (though in a relatively tame way) and her husband casually mentions to someone who turns out to be a reporter that he barely sees his wife now. And she’s not the only one dealing with fallout, though Ruth’s situation, with her cheating husband, was already in the works. It was just the calendar that acted as a catalyst for it all to come to a head.

While the heart of the movie is about Chris and her friend Annie and using the calendar to raise money to honor Annie’s husband, the point is about doing something daring and out of the ordinary. While I do love seeing the very proper looking Jessie calmly talk about the calendar over breakfast with her husband, and her matter-of-fact attitude about it all is fantastic (and played brilliantly by Annette Crosbie), and Celia Imrie is hilarious as Celia, and Helen Mirren and Julie Walters are wonderful as best friends Chris and Anne, I think it’s Ruth and Cora I love watching the most. Cora, played by Linda Bassett, has a story that doesn’t take up a lot of space in the movie, but if you watch closely you can see what her life is. She plays the piano for the WI. She runs a shop and tea room. She has a daughter whom she wants to be a good example to. And she has a tattoo. Eventually it becomes clear that she and her daughter seem to have gotten even closer because of the calendar. It’s a quiet background story but I love it. And then there’s Ruth, who’s very much devoted to her husband, nervous about life in general, and not at all on board with the whole nude calendar idea. Until she begins to suspect that her husband is bored. She jumps into the photo shoot, then later on learns that he’s been cheating on her, likely for some time. There’s a not-entirely-unpredictable-but-satisfying-all-the-same scene where she confronts her husband and his mistress, then heads off for Hollywood. Penelope Wilton does an absolutely lovely job with Ruth, playing her both meek and mischievous at the same time.

The whole falling out between Chris and Annie seems a little contrived, but it fits into the overall story that the movie builds. I have no idea if such a thing actually happened within the group of ladies upon whom this movie is based, but I suspect if it did this movie highly dramatizes it. But really, that’s a small quibble and I understand what the aim of it was. Not to say that falling outs don’t happen, but the specifics of this particular one, when put up against everything else, seems a little easily built and easily fixed. What I find more realistic and more touching were the piles of letters Annie gets after news of the calendar and its purpose gets to be widespread. So many letters, all from other people who’ve lost loved ones to cancer. It’s sad that I do find that so realistic, but it is. Which is why this movie is able to tug at those heartstrings so easily. Fortunately, the teary bits are spread out through the movie and the rest is just plain fun to watch. It’s full of strong characters, many of them female, doing fantastic and amazing things all because at the start of it, they wanted to help a friend.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Calendar Girls

November 19, 2010

Calendar Girls

Our goal today was to find a movie that would not, under any circumstances, piss us off. Something that did not fill us with rage. So we turned to this charming, touching and wonderful movie based on a true story of a group of middle aged English women who published a nude calendar to raise money for a local hospital. We knew this movie was good, although neither of us had seen it, because when we suggested once watching it with Amanda’s mother she instantly declared “Oh, I own that one.” If Amanda’s mother, who hardly watches movies at all and owns even fewer, already owns a movie then we can be pretty sure it will appeal to us.

So. Calendar girls. I mentioned this movie when we watched The Full Monty because the two movies seem a natural fit. Both are true tales of a plucky group of British people who decide for some reason to take their clothes off. In this case it’s a group of women taking off their clothes to raise money in honor of the husband of one who dies of cancer. So start the waterworks right at the beginning of the movie. I will admit that there were large parts of the movie I couldn’t see too well because my eyes were so filled with tears. But for the most part it is tears of joy, because this movie is one all about triumph and about empowerment.

Which is pretty much the appeal of the movie. Yes, the initial impetus for the calendar is based in tragedy, but then the story becomes about overcoming that tragedy and doing something worthy. As the movie progresses and the momentum of the project builds there’s an infectious sense of wonderment to the story. I love seeing these women thrust by their bold actions into a wholly unexpected spotlight – and seeing how gracefully they react. All of this is made more delightful by the featurette on the DVD that contains interviews with the actual women upon whom the movie was based. They seem to be every bit as delightful in real life as their film counterparts are, which is something I hadn’t really expected. Usually there is only a tiny seed of truth to a movie “based on a true story” but in this case it looks as though almost everything that we see on the screen is a pretty accurate depiction of the true events. The only obvious alterations for dramatic impact are a change to the identity of the calendar photographer and a side-plot about how the W.I. doesn’t approve of the endeavour, which doesn’t seem to have been the case.

In the footage of the real life calendar girls on the red carpet at Cannes along with the actresses who portrayed them in the film there’s a strange sort of sense of heightened reality. Part of this must be due to the wonderful performances from the women cast to play the part of simple ordinary house-wives. Of course I expected nothing less than a stellar job from Helen Mirren, of whom I have been a big fan since I first discovered her on Prime Suspect. But this is an ensemble cast and every woman on the screen is absolutely captivating. It was delightful to see Penelope Wilton, who we enjoy so much in The Norman Conquests here playing a shy housewife who doesn’t at first realize why her husband takes so many business trips. Julie Walters is the heart of the movie as Annie – the woman who’s husband dies. She carries a lot of responsibility on her shoulders because it is her strength in the face of adversity that drives the movie. Walters’ performance is moving and heart-rending and uplifting.

These women did something outrageous, brash, courageous and amazing and succeeded beyond any possible expectation. It is a delight to enjoy this journey with them and as the movie draws to a close you can’t help wishing you could meet these women yourself and congratulate them. I could see this movie being something calming to throw in on a rough day simply for something fun to watch. And Oh! I haven’t even mentioned the amazing and beautiful countryside shown in both the movie and the special features. I want to move to England now even more than I did before watching this. This movie met every goal I had for tonight and surpassed it. I was not enraged. I was delighted and enraptured. Thank you, ladies.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment