Film-Forward Review: [CALENDAR GIRLS]

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Photo: Touchstone

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Directed by: Nigel Cole.
Produced by: Suzanne Mackie & Nick Barton.
Written by: Juliette Towhidi & Tim Firth.
Director of Photography: Ashley Rowe.
Edited by: Michael Parker.
Music by: Patrick Doyle.
Released by: Touchstone.
Country of Origin: UK. 108 min. Rated: PG-13.
With: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton & Annette Crosbie.

Add Bend It Like Beckham's feminism with The Full Monty's upturned English propriety and you get Calendar Girls, where a group of women of a certain age pose nude for charity. Yet refreshingly, this straightforward comedy keeps its preciousness in check. In their picturesque Yorkshire village, Chris (Mirren) and Annie (Walters) endure interminable meeting after meeting of the monthly Women's Institute, hearing yet another lecture on jam making. Life long friends, Chris comforts Annie when her husband, John (Alderton), is diagnosed with leukemia. Inspired by John's praise of older women, Chris insists that the WI's next fund-raiser calendar showcase, instead of country churches, the women instead, naked - correction -nude (since the photos will be artistic), with proceeds going to the hospital where John had been treated. Chris convinces enough members to pose for all 12 months, including the grandmotherly Jessie (Crosbie).

After the women have confronted their fears, overcome bureaucratic hurdles, and the calendar becomes a bestseller, a weaker conflict emerges: Chris's insatiable drive to be in the spotlight. However, it is a change of pace for a film based on a true story to even hint that those involved not only basked in the media attention but also sought it out. Mirren's Chris is amused throughout, whether from finding her son's hidden porn magazine or in her fascination with the semi-clad calendar girls hanging in her mechanic's garage. Such is the film's droll sense of humor that, during breakfast in an abundant garden, Jessie’s husband informs her, "You're nude in the Telegraph this morning. Please pass the bacon."

This predictable, but engaging, fable remains compelling largely because the leads, Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, bring an intimacy to their characters' relationship. And never does the cast mug to the camera. Although the material is somewhat slight, Mirren and her cohorts give it weight and verve. Kent Turner
December 19, 2003



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