Pros: Amusing, Fine ensemble cast, Scenery
Cons: Slow pacing, Melodramatic at times
Who says middle aged women can't be sexy calendar models? That is just the premise proposed by one of the freer thinking members of Yorkshire England's Rylstone Women's Institute, a prim and proper ladies club, badly in need of a face lift. The 2003 comedy Calendar Girls is based on the true story of members of the Napely branch of the Women's Institute who decide to exchange their traditional money making project of producing an annul calendar featuring photos of jams, flowers, and landscapes, with discretely staged nude photos of the matronly members themselves.
The monthly meetings had become so monotonous that member Chris Harper (Helen Mirren) wisecracks, "If more people did Women's Institute, there would be half the need for hallucinogenic drugs." When fellow member Annie Clark's (Julie Walters) husband, John, dies of leukemia, Chris suggests that they try a new project this year, in the form of a nude calendar, and donate the money to buy furniture for the hospital in John's memory. She is initially met with opposition by the Institute's rigid Chairman Marie. (Geraldine James) However, when Chris volunteers by boldly announcing,"You're looking at January," an additional eleven volunteers follow suit, naming their chosen month. All that remains is obtaining approval from the regional chapter of the Women's Institute, which is a bit more of a challenge than the members bargained for.
Once approval is granted, the process of photographing the models is yet another comedic challenge, when one of the photos involves strategically placed cinnamon buns covering the model's breast, Chris quips, "I think we are going to need considerably bigger buns." Due to the self- consciousnesses of some of the models, it is suggested that the male photographer attempt to take the photographs from another room. This creates a very humorous scene, highlighting the frivolity and sense of lightheartedness that the project promotes.
Trouble arises when the project creates a media frenzy and profits begin to skyrocket. The working class calendar models get a taste of the glitz and glamor of Hollywood when they are invited to Los Angeles to appear on the Jay Leno show. What was originally planned to be a local charitable project seems more like a publicity stunt, straining the friendships of the members and calling their motivations into question.
Director Nigel Cole (Saving Grace) is successful in presenting an amusing and appealing lighthearted comedy, that is carried primarily on the strength of the performances the lead actresses, some effective one-liners, and the irresistible charm of the quirky calendar itself. He is also blessed with an excellent ensemble cast.
Helen Mirren (Gosford Park/Last Orders) and Julie Walters (Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone/Billy Elliot) deliver excellent lead performance in their complementary roles as the saucy Chis and her more conservative, serious minded, best friend Annie. Ciaran Hinds(Sum Of All Fears/Road To Perdition) adds a strong supporting role as Chris' frustrated husband.
The idyllic setting of Northern Yorkshire is beautifully captured in sweeping, panoramic, shots of the lush green valleys and sprawling countryside. Especially notable are the scenes in which the Women's Institute members are depicted practicing Tai Chi against the lovely backdrop of the picturesque landscape. Patrick Doyle (Gosford Park/Secondhand Lions) adds a dreamy soundtrack with a slight Celtic flavor.
The biggest weakness in the film it that it moves along at a fairly slow pace, despite the fact that there is not a lot of extensive dialog or dramatic scenes. A few of the scenes border a bit on the melodramatic, when the women begin to experience some major friction brought on by the trip to Hollywood.
Still, it's refreshing to see the beauty of middle aged women showcased in such a positive manner. The film also has a happy ending when the project raises enough money to fund the building of an entire wing on the hospital. Credit should be given to Nigel Cole for creating a film that is witty, but also intelligent, graceful, and visually attractive; the very characteristics which make "mature" women so appealing.
"The Naked Truth" documentary with original members of the Women's Institute discussing their experience as Calendar Girls
"Creating The Calendar" photography featurette
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French language track