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January 2004 "Calendar Girls," not quite a female full Monty - CinemaDave

Mar. 31st, 2005 08:56 pm January 2004 "Calendar Girls," not quite a female full Monty

After thawing out diplomatic relations between the United States and France, my buddy Bene returned from her homeland with a home movie. Bene's video revealed the openness of Parisian public nudity within an urban environment. In contrast, it is refreshing to see the flirty modesty of "Calendar Girls." From this perspective, it is easy to appreciate the loud laugh when one of the naked Calendar Girls mentions that, "...we are not from France!"

The story begins across the channel in the English Village of Yorkshire. John (John Alderton) is suffering from cancer, while his wife, Annie (Julie Walters) attends a women's social club. Annie and her best friend Chris, (Helen Mirren) sit in the back room and mock the agenda of boring speakers. The terminal John is invited to address the women's club, but dies of his malady.

After the memorial service, Annie reads a letter John had written. John describes the women of Yorkshire as a flower that is most glorious in their final stage. After discovering her son's Playboy magazines, Chris hits upon an idea. To raise money for their charitable organization Annie & Chris propose posing semi-naked for their annual calendar.

The results are monstrous as the calendar nets over half a million British pounds and international attention. After the photo shoot and the local reaction, "Calendar Girls" suffers from the morning-after syndrome. The plot becomes formulaic and suffers from the conflict that all Disney movie protagonists suffer from; family values vs. materialistic fame.

"Calendar Girls" is based on a true story, but the regular disclaimer at the end does acknowledge dramatic license. Given the attention given to Dame Helen Mirren's brief nude scenes, Mirren has made a niche for herself as a character actress in Masterpiece Theater's "Prime Suspect" and "Gosford Park." How quickly the critics circle forgot her siren-like roles in "Excalibur" and "Caligula" in the early 1980's.

Julie Walters's provides a fine foil to Mirren. They are old time friends that have the comfort of saying some mean things to each other in the climax. The other ten Calendar Girls have some funny one liners and are involved in many funny sight gags, but their roles are less developed.

"Calendar Girls" will create thoughts of deja vu. "The Full Monty" was released seven years ago and went on to garner a best picture Oscar nomination (it lost to "Titanic."). At least "The Full Monty" created fictional characters that were funny and memorable. The three minute promotional trailer for "Calendar Girls" was energetic and generated belly laughs. It is a shame that screenwriters Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth could not sustain the laugh momentum for additional 105 minutes.

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