In the spirit of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, Calendar Girls picks up where The Full Monty left off. Or does it leave off where The Full Monty picked up? In many ways, it's a safer, cozier movie, though no less enjoyable and perhaps no less political. In The Full Monty, a group of unemployed men bare all in order to raise enough money to pay their bills. Here, a group of women bare at least something in order to raise enough money to spruce up the waiting room at a local hospital. I know what you're thinking: What ever happened to bake sales? But in the entire history of the pinup girl, there may never have been a more noble justification for stripping down to bare essentials. Even so, these middle-aged women appear to be having the time of their lives.
And so did the (mostly) women I saw the movie with. Calendar Girls is very much a chick flick, a loving tribute to female bonding. But there's no reason why men shouldn't enjoy it as well, and at least one reason why they should. Make that 11 reasons -- Misses January through November, December being reserved for a group shot of the ladies, who are all members of the Rylstone Women's Institute, a north-England chapter of what we would call the Junior League. Tired of the group's usual fund-raising calendars, which feature picture-postcard views of their idyllic village, Chris (Helen Mirren) and Annie (Julie Walters) suggest a slightly different approach to honor the memory of Annie's recently deceased husband, John (John Alderton). Instead of hills and valleys, cleavage. Instead of blue skies, pink thighs. But -- and this is the stroke of genius -- the Ladies of Rylstone don't wage full-frontal attacks. They play peek-a-boo with the camera while going about their normal day-to-day activities.
And they do it to the tune of $750,000, enough to fund an entire hospital wing. By all accounts, the real-life calendar girls were a total success. As for the reel-life calendar girls, things don't work out quite so well. To flesh out what was essentially a newspaper feature story, scriptwriters Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth have concocted a few dark shadows around the edges of the movie's glamour-shot approach. Mirren's Chris, in particular, gets so swept up in the group's international success that she starts to neglect her husband, her son, even her best friend, Annie, who calls her on it after an appearance on "The Tonight Show." The story needed some conflict, obviously, but the ones that Towhidi and Firth chose have the effect of turning Calendar Girls into a bit of a cautionary tale. Luckily, director Nigel Cole has such a light, graceful touch (as do Mirren and Walters, two top-notch actresses) that the shadows quickly recede and the Ladies of Rylstone stand before us, in all their radiant glory.