Calendar Girls

on December 19, 2003 by Mary Colbert
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How's this for a fusion of opposites: Cancer meets a female "Full Monty"? Only the Brits could get away with a concept so outrageous. But what makes this movie even more risqué--and gives it even more heart--is that it's based on a real-life story. What's next in the name of community spirit?

Julie Walters portrays Angela Baker, whose husband (John Alderton) is diagnosed with and dies of leukemia. Angela's best friend, Tricia (Helen Mirren), rallies members of their local Women's Institute to pose for a calendar to raise money for leukemia research. The twist: The mature-aged women are all to pose nude, engaged in traditional Women's Institute activities like knitting, gardening, pressing apples or baking cakes. But the calendar, conceived partly as a distraction for the aggrieved widow, takes off with a life of its own, exceeding even the wildest dreams of its creators, revved up by media frenzy. Long-established friendships are tested as the women attempt to adjust to their new life in the spotlight.

Director Nigel Cole's previous film was "Saving Grace" and once more he shows a well-attuned talent for directing female thesps. His decision to cast Mirren, usually associated with quieter, more serious roles, and Walters, the outrageous comedienne, against type here really pays off.

Rather than present a disease-of-the-week movie, the filmmakers and cast have created a superb cinematic antidote to ageism. As such, it's a treasure. It's also an emotional rollercoaster, and an entertaining ode to the human spirit. Starring Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Linda Bassett, Ciaran Hinds, Philip Glenister and Geraldine James. Directed by Nigel Cole. Written by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Frith. Produced by Nick Barton and Suzanne Mackie. A Buena Vista release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for nudity, some language and drug-related material. Running time: 107 min

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