"I need you, boomin granny, I
At its best, Calendar Girls is a cheeky little tale about a few middle-aged (presuming they're planning on living to 120) Englishwomen overcoming their inhibitions and making a semi-nude charity calendar. I say semi-nude; actually they're starkers, but artfully posed to reveal not much more than you'd see at the beach. The audience does get to see Helen Mirren "flash her rack" -- but otherwise, there's not so much as a nipple in sight. This isn't the Modern Maturity version of Sirens (1994). In fact, I'd be willing to wager that Calendar Girls has less nudity than your average PG-13 flick.
Chris (Helen Mirren) scoffs at but goes along with the deadly-dull proceedings of her women's group, the W.I. Debating the relative merits of a proposed "view of Knapley" calender and an entirely theoretical "Views of George Clooney" alternative, Chris observes "I'm not disputing the beauty of the church -- it's the firmness of the buttocks I'm worried about."
John (John Alderton), the husband of Chris's best friend Annie (Julie Walters), develops cancer. This injects a note of seriousness into the women's lives, a sadness gradually changing into resolve. John writes, while sick, "The flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Each phase of their development has its own beauty, but the last stage is the most glorious... And then they go to seed." Calendar Girls has a good habit of following poignant material with sharper closers like that, which prevents the proceedings from becoming too maudlin.
The road from inspiration (lets do it for John!) to finished product runs pretty much as you'd expect, with embarrassment, tittering amongst the talent, body image issues, upset amongst the menfolk, and mild resistance from token prudes. At the end of that road, the models seem a bit changed, a bit sharper and more confident, somewhat removed from the flyweight existences they had held down. As well they should -- braving condemnation, or worse yet, neglect and scorn, to help other people should change one for the better.
I liked Calendar Girls pound-for-pound fully as much as 1997's delightful The Full Monty...until the calendar gets made. Calendar Girls' last two acts, "What Chris and Annie Learned in Hollywood," are nothing more than a rote recitation of the perils of fame. Fame changes people; success tears old friends apart; you can lose track of what's really important; blah blah blah. Once the novelty of the girls' celebrity wears off, there's nothing to distinguish CG's closing third from a million other tales. Some movies ought to settle for being fun and a little wise.
"Alas, the penis is such a ridiculous petitioner." -- William Gass
Among the Aussie puppeteers' best lines are some last-minute attempts to warn the unwary that there will be full frontal male nudity. "Nobody's going to be saying, 'Oh, why can't there be some lovely puppets?'" "We had an older group in here last week -- for some reason, they thought they were going to an organ recital!" Then the robes comes off, the dicks come out, and the awe-inspiring manipulations begin. Aside from a cape, a hat, and running shoes, both puppeteers were naked as jaybirds.
But, leaving aside the constant dong jokes peppered throughout their patter, PoP is really one of the cleanest shows in town. Sure, the lads twist and bend and stretch their franks and beans into the shape of animals, landmarks, and celebrities, but never once do they present themselves in a prurient or smutty manner. By design, it has all the erotic charge of a copy of Gray's Anatomy. Whenever a joke or trick drew groans from the audience, the performers rejoined, "Hey, you all PAID to see the dirty show, dincha?"
The audience at the Wilma, at least three-quarters
women, were in hysterics. The boys' press release
describes how of the lads came up with a simple, intuitive
"dick trick," and how the competitive spirit
took off and the lot of them became skilled practitioners
in genital origami. What could have been a stupid
frat boy game that lasted a few days is now, bizarrely,
a tour delighting packed theaters worldwide. If the
Puppetry Boys movie ever comes out, I'd beg the creators
to refrain from shoehorning in any life lessons. Public
nudity for public fun has already made the act just
a little larger than life.
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