If you read about how a British women's church group raised money for charity by selling a nude pin-up calendar of its eminently respectable members of a certain age, with modest photographs, you might know they raised about a million dollars for a local cancer ward. "Calendar Girls" is a slightly risque, good-humored comedy starring Mirren and Walters as the daring spearheads. It's a modest British comedy so straightforward and universal that it plays to almost any crowd, gets laughs in the right places, and leaves most viewers pleased, if not overwhelmed.
Members of a Yorkshire chapter of the Women's Institute, a community organization widespread in the UK and Canada, nod sleepily through lectures on tea cozies and broccoli until member Chris Harper (Mirren), a spirited woman whose son's porn magazine and a girlie calendar on the wall at a local garage give her the big idea. She shares it with her close friends, some of whom are appalled, but enough of them are titillated, and of course wonder: How will I look? But the W.I.'s long tradition of flower-arranging, baking, and crafts offer foregrounds for the photos that hide "the naughty bits."
After Chris' best pal (Walters) Annie's husband John (Alderton) dies of leukemia, the group have a cause for fund-raising. Reactionary elements in the local and national W.I. oppose the project until Mirren speaks before the national convention. (In reality, everyone thought the calendar was a great idea.)
The models make an American version, then promote it on an appearance on the Leno show, and fame goes to their heads for a little while. Actually, the clever idea caught the imaginations of many people, and raised good money for charity. The idea works well in the movie largely because of the charm of Mirren and Walters, whose characters have infectious fun. Director Cole also made "Saving Grace" (2000), a comedy of Brenda Blethyn as a new widow supporting herself by growing marijuana in her cottage garden.
Tim Firth & Juliette Towhidi
Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Philip Glenist
Women's Institute calendar, Full Monty, over-40 nudity
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