Chris (Helen Mirren) and Annie (Julie Walters) are old friends who have become increasingly bored with the monthly meeting of their women’s group and its unending stream of stultifying speakers on such topics as the history of broccoli or the milk marketing board. When it comes time to plan the group’s annual calendar fundraiser, the two hatch a plan to turn the usual collection of photos of country churches and landscapes on its head. Inspired by something that Anne’s husband said shortly before dying of leukemia, the ladies decide that this year’s calendar will show members of the group doing traditional things like baking pastries or knitting sans clothes.
Needless to say, when word starts to get around the sleepy countryside, reactions vary. Some are shocked and some bemused. But when the calendars go on sale, the ladies find they have an unanticipated hit on their hands. But the women find themselves the sudden center of a media maelstrom, they find that fame is not all it can be and Chris and Annie find their friendship tested.
Based on a true story from 2000, Calendar Girls does the “older women can be sexy” story much better than the recent Hollywood spawned romantic comedy Something’s Gotta Give. Whereas Something’s Gotta Give has the chemistry of Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton to carry the film, the screenplay to Calendar Girls is the stronger, wittier and more touching of the two. The film does follow some of the same broad story beats as 1997’s The Full Monty; a group of older folks in a small English country town decide to raise a little cash by dropping their clothes. But the devil’s in the details here and the film definitely differentiates itself from its male counterpart.
While the film primarily concentrates on the production of the calendar and the friendship between Chris and Annie, the other “Calendar Girls” do get some nice screen moments as well. Penelope Wilton is outstanding as a meek housewife who summons up the inner strength to confront her philandering husband after posing for the calendar. Ciaran Hinds as Chris’ husband who starts to feel left behind in the wake of the calendar’s success also contributes a fine performance.
By the time the girls reach Hollywood for an appearance on The Tonight Show the film does seems to flag a little, but fortunately knows well enough to speedily wrap things up before its starts to drag too much. But aside from that brief stumble, Calendar Girls provides plenty of laughs and a few heartfelt moments. And besides, how many English comedies sport cameos from hard rock band Anthrax?