In a small, quiet English village, a local women’s group meets every Thursday to discuss flowers, jams, and other boring topics. When Annie (Julie Walters), a member of the group, loses her husband to cancer, her best friend Chris (Helen Mirren) decides to do something radical to raise money for charity: a semi-nude calendar featuring the ladies of the organization. Predictably unwilling at first, the group soon agrees to Chris’s idea. Much to everyone’s surprise, and to Annie’s chagrin, the resulting calendar is one of the hottest sellers of the holiday season, and their true story and fame reaches all the way to Hollywood.
There’s really no other way to approach “Calendar Girls” (IMDb listing) besides accusing it of outright thievery. This charming dramedy has all the ingredients that helped “The Full Monty” score much quid at the box office in 1997. The particulars are exactly alike: the precocious Europeans, the sitcomish one-liners and appalling dramatics, and a little nudity from people you wouldn’t think would drop their skivvies. “Calendar Girls” is a decent enough moviegoing experience, if you can get past the sinking feeling of manipulation in the name of easy box office gold.
Based on a true story, “Calendar Girls” is the light, Oxygen Channel version of what happened, though director Nigel Cole (“Saving Grace”) isn’t afraid to lay down the weighty melodramatics when the film approaches something resembling a hot streak of comedy. The biggest plot to mine here is the creation of the calendar: the choosing of the photographer, the planning of the poses, and finally, the unveiling of the ladies. “Girls” finds plenty of time to cover all these bases, and the film hits a tremendous stride when it concentrates on just this sequence. Screenwriting 101 will suggest that you need a little extra fat so the audience can get to know these characters, so writers Tim Firth and Julie Towhidi slather on plenty of needless subplots to overcompensate for character development that isn’t required. One of the ladies has a cheating husband, Chris’ hubby is misquoted in the local paper suggesting he’s in a sexless marriage, and there’s a long sequence set in Los Angeles so the girls can learn their lesson of overexposure. That’s all well and good, but by the time these subplots roll out, the film has stayed well past its welcome. “Calendar Girls” is a brightly funny, heart tugging little plum of a picture, and gumming up the works with superfluous drama takes the sting out of the overall journey.
In the title roles, Cole finds tremendous help in the talent department, and some beautiful women to boot. Leads Julie Walters and Helen Mirren are the stars of the show, and they bravely parade their bodies along with their inestimable talent. Mirren especially sinks her teeth into the role, showing a rare comedic side that I dare say should get out of the shade a little more often.
Massively likable as long as you bring a book to take the edge off the dramatic baggage, “Calendar Girls” is a delightful celebration of what the ladies pulled off to great success in real life. And what other film will show you Helen Mirren in the same frame as the metal band Anthrax? People, get it while it’s hot.
Filmfodder Grade: B