A review of “Calendar Girls” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for nudity, adult situations, mild profanity

Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

 

 

Calendar Girls strikes a chord for post-menopausal feminism that rings loud and clear.

Chris and Annie (Helen Mirren and Julie Walters) live the good life in the small village of Skipton in the North Yorkshire Dales.  Their days are filled with children, husbands, and their good works for the local Women’s Institute. 

Satisfied with life but wearying of pointless lectures on the splendid and diverse uses of broccoli, Chris and Annie search in vain for a meaningful project.  Unfortunately one lands in their lap when Annie’s husband John (John Clarke) is diagnosed with terminal leukemia. 

Determined to make his death count, the gals glom onto a great idea: raise money to replace the mangy furniture in the Relatives Room of the cancer ward at the neighborhood hospital.

Bake sales have been done to death (a pinch of sponge cake, anyone?), as have knit-offs and quilting bees.  Dogged about thinking outside of the box, the pair settles on a major eyebrow-raiser – a year-long calendar featuring the women of Skipton performing the feminine tasks of cake icing, flower arranging and cider-pressing… in the nude.

General hilarity ensues, ranging from the conservative townsfolk’s reactions to the photo shoot itself.  The film pokes gentle fun at stuffy women’s groups but celebrates ageless female empowerment with humor and grace.

The third act is a bit superfluous as the dirty dozen attain international fame, traveling to Hollywood for a whirlwind publicity tour.  That’s not an inspired fiction; Calendar Girls is based on the real life story of the Rylstone and District Women’s Institute of Yorkshire, who published their own nude calendar in 2000 and sat side by side with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.

Mirren and Walters are delightfully mischievous co-conspirators, exuding the typical no-nonsense attitude of good English country women. The plot vacillates haphazardly between comedy and drama, dropping lingering plot threads that speak to the evil consequences of celebrity.  But Calendar never loses sight of its charm or persistent spirit, intent on celebrating the gutsy feat of a group of extraordinary women.