May 3, 2013

[Movies] Calendar Girls (2003)

I had first heard about the movie Calendar Girls many years ago and the concept alone had me eager to see it. But of course one thing led to another and I just never got around to actually watching this movie until the weekend prior to this one. Life is funny that way.

The core concept behind the movie is quite delightful - the story of "little old ladies" posing for a nude calendar is an inherently humorous notion. But if anything the story is based on real-time events, although there were liberties made with the specific characters involved in the story.

The movie feels a little dated - not as a period piece but in terms of shooting sensibilities. The overall pacing of the movie is a little slower than what we're become accustomed to in recent years. But that in no way takes away from the story - I'm just trying to set your expectations here. After all, this is a British comedy and not an  American one, thus the humor is a lot more well thought-out and deliberate and not too heavy on slapstick and such.

Synopsis: Calendar Girls is a 2003 British comedy directed by Nigel Cole. The screenplay was penned by Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi based on a story by of a fund-raising effort by a group of Yorkshire women via the Women's Institutes.

The story begins with the news that Annie Clark's (Julie Walters) husband, John, has died from leukaemia. She and her close friend  Chris Harper (Hellen Mirren) are eager to help out the hospital where he had been treated by donating a sofa for the visitors' lounge. But this idea snowballs into thinking about how to donate more money for the cause of cancer research.

In time the ladies come upon the idea of putting together a artistic nude calendar - one where they are engaged in every day activities and yet not directly revealing more private bits. To this end they need to get more ladies to volunteer to pose for these photos and eventually get the sanction of their branch of the Women's Institute as well. And that last item is not an easy goal at all and this leads to them going all the way to London to plead their case.

Helen Mirren is quite the sassy lady in this piece and she's a natural for her role. She carries the gung-ho attitude that you'd expect from someone to push this nude calendar idea and does so without being hammy. And yes, we all know how impressive she is given her age so a photo shoot with her is not that unpleasant a concept.

But the actress who really shines is Julie Walters, who provides a largely silent yet powerful  portrayal of her character Annie. And despite this being touted as a comedy, she really brings on the drama when needed to give this movie more than just laughs but a lot more heart. I swear in her shorter haircut here I was totally getting a lot of Judi Dench vibes at times. Both are stellar actresses after all.

I really liked how the calendar eventually turned out. The end result was a truly tasteful display that celebrated what these women do day after day and yet making them also quite beautiful. And that takes a fair amount of skill to figure out how to do. I kind of wish that the movie had also featured the original calendar girls in some way or compared the images with the originals, but I'm not sure how closely they had followed the original as inspiration. That's the biggest reason that comes to mind why they might opt not to feature the original calendar.

As with many British comedies, the movie is a comedy in the sense that it leaves you feeling delighted and should get you to crack a smile afterwards. But it won't have you rolling on the ground laughing due to the absurdity of the situations that the ladies find themselves in.

Special mentions to rather popular British actresses like Linda Bassett, Celia Imrie and of course Penelope Wilton from Doctor Who and Downton Abbey fame as of late. And I can't help but feel a lot of these folks were seen in another movie that I enjoyed, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

I really did enjoy this movie - it came with an inherent simplicity to its approach that sort of matched the small town setting where the ladies were based. So the movie as a whole gets a respectable 4 priceless smiles as the ladies posed for the camera out of a possible 5.

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