Calendar Girls

2003, Movie, PG-13, 108 mins

Review

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Adapted from a true story, this charming comedy gives new meaning to the term chick flick by glorifying the beauty of aging as embodied by a stellar cast. Longtime best friends Chris (Helen Mirren) and Annie (Julie Walters) dutifully attend monthly meetings of their local Women's Institute, an organization that's meant to bring enlightenment, fun and friendship into their lives — but more often induces crushing boredom by virtue of its stodgy ways. When Annie's husband, John (John Alderton), dies suddenly of leukemia, Chris shares her devastation and cooks up an unusual plan to raise money for the local hospital in John's memory. A dedicated gardener, John prepared a speech before his death in which he compared the women of Yorkshire to flowers, noting that they only get better with the passage of time. This notion, combined with the discovery of a nudie magazine in her son's (John-Paul MacLeod) room, sparks Chris's idea to persuade the ladies of the WI to produce a nude calendar for charity. Since the group's annual calendar has traditionally celebrated beauty in the more seemly forms of picturesque bridges and churches, Chris's suggestion causes quite an uproar; several of the group's more staid members are shocked at the concept of older woman baring all, no matter how good the cause. But Chris recruits several volunteers and forges ahead, finding a local photographer, Lawrence (Philip Glenister), to snap shots of the women in artful and discreet ways while they perform such typical WI activities as baking, gardening and knitting — all in the buff. Each woman has her own reason for daring to bare: philandering husbands, a chance to spice up a marriage or just the opportunity to feel attractive even if her body is less than perfect by the standards of fashion magazines and underwear catalogues. Chris knocks down roadblocks while Annie watches quietly, a constant reminder of the cause behind this project. Once printed, the calendar becomes a phenomenon, and the small town is inundated by reporters looking to meet these bold middle-aged women; ironically, the pressures of fame threaten Chris and Annie's friendship. Director Nigel Cole made his feature film debut with SAVING GRACE (2000), a comedy about a respectable widow who cultivates a marijuana farm when her husband's sudden death leaves her drowning in debt, and he seems to have a real knack for crafting films about middle-aged women in unconventional situations. Though many of this film's characters are exaggerated or composite versions of their real-life counterparts, CALENDAR GIRLS remains true to the spirit of the engaging, real-life story which captured the attention of many around the world. The caliber of the cast, led by Mirren and Walters, elevates the material above movie-of-the-week level, and viewers can relish seeing these fine actresses play against type. Walters, who's made a career playing mouthy firecrackers, steps into a more subdued role, while Mirren breaks away from some of her sadder roles to play a loud and vivacious character. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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