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Calendar Girls

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Calendar Girls

Starring: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters
Director: Nigel Cole
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: December 2003
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Penelope Wilton, Philip Glenister, Jay Leno, Annette Crosbie, John Alderton, Angus Barnett, Linda Bassett, George Costigan, Annette Crosbie

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

The expression still holds: Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a pathway to your door. It doesn't really matter for what building your metaphorical mousetrap is constructed. What's important is that the product be admired for its originality. Sales will confirm success.

Nigel Cole puts together an unusual mousetrap in Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi's "Calendar Girls," an idea that in retrospect seems such an obvious marketing ploy that if you're a woman in her fifties, you'll slap your head and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" Too late now: if you use felines instead of mousetraps , the cat is out of the bag. A group of women from the sticks of England though pleasant sticks at that with rolling hills and typically adorable shops in a North Yorkshire town get an idea whose genius is overtaken only by what we urban folks would erroneously say is its banality. Members of a Women's Institute in this North Yorkshire town who gather regularly to hear and be bored by guest speakers' presenting topics as The History of Broccoli when they're not getting advice on how to bake better and darn socks with more pizzazz or competing in bake-offs, devise a scheme to raise money. The money is not needed for selfish purposes. When the husband (John Alderton) of Annie Clarke (Julie Walters) dies in short order of leukemia, the women want to present the hospital with some furniture in his memory. Annie and her best friend Chris Harper (Helen Mirren) devise an unusual plan, inspired by Chris's leafing through her son's girlie magazine. Why not raise money by printing a nude calendar, but instead of the typical playmates, the fifty- something women would themselves become January through December?

After quite a bit of playing with this idea, one which would seem as radical in a small, southern American town as it did at first among the women in the Women's Institute chapter, the dozen women under Chris's leadership decide to pose nude, albeit with private parts covered by cakes or palettes or what- have-you. They hope that the calendar sales in the region would raise money to provide some memorial items for the hospital. They must overcome their own modesty, e.g. allowing the photographer at first to set up the camera and then leave the room, and they must get beyond the hostility of some of the men, particularly Chris's son, who is being razzed by the girls in school, and Chris's husband, Rod (Ciaran Hinds), who considers the plan immodest and foolish.

"Calendar Girls" is hit and miss at first, as the women titter and blush and pop their eyes at the thought of taking it all off, a reaction that would seem not disingenuous but naive to anyone to the left of the Taliban. But as the story develops and director Cole penetrates the surface kidding around and girlie games, we find considerable friction, not only between one of the husbands and his wife but between the two best friends themselves. Ultimately, the calendar idea takes off far beyond the wildest dream of any of the participants, and the women, giggly as pre-adolescents in a sex hygiene class, get their fifteen minutes of fame and then some.

The film, of course, reminds us of Peter Cattaneo's "The Full Monty," which in 1997 hit the bull's eye dealing with unemployed Sheffield steel-mill workers who like the women in Cole's picture need money and most of all need something of broader significance to do than storing jam for the winter. Cole extracts fine ensemble acting, the interplay between Mirren and Walters centering the story. You don't need to be a middle-age Yorkshire resident to appreciate this: Simply approach this story's humor on its own level, a tale freer of cynicism than just about anything turned out by Hollywood.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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