Unlikely sex symbols take the limelight in 'Calendar Girls'

by Jaime Padgett | 1/14/04 6:00am

It's a wonder that so much attention has been lavished on a little British movie about a bunch of women with saggy boobs. But such is the success of the sleeper hit "Calendar Girls." The story keeps the audience smiling and giggling throughout the film.

Set in the beautiful countryside of Yorkshire, England, the movie tells the true story of the Rylstone chapter of the Women's Institute (W.I.), a social organization that encourages the values of "enlightenment, fun and friendship." When a few "rouge individuals" from the chapter decide to make a nude calendar to raise money for the local hospital, some eyebrows are understandably raised.

But when one member, Annie (Julie Walters), poses the all-important question, "What's more important? Knowing slightly more about broccoli than we did the week before, or providing some comfort for someone in the worst part of their life?" there can be no turning back.

The driving force behind the fundraiser is the recent death of Annie's husband John, who died of leukemia. The aim is to raise enough money from the calendar sales to buy a new sofa for the hospital in John's name.

The Calendar Girls, usually extremely proper, drop everything, except their ubiquitous pearl necklaces, in order to make the calendars actually sell. The women pose nude -- covered only by strategically placed baked goods, art palettes, knitting needles and other items generally associated with the W.I.

Although the plot is partially driven by the serious issues of illness and death, the film is highly amusing. "Calendar Girls" drips with British charm, complete with colloquialisms like "bloke" and "bloody." Periodic dry, witty lines also help to lead the audience into a more playful realm. In a calm discussion over the breakfast table, the husband of a Calendar Girl calmly states, "Your nude picture in the Tele, dear. Can you pass the bacon?"

Also helping to create an engaging film is the character Chris (Helen Mirren), who seems like a teenager trapped in an adult's body, complete with brutal honesty, politically incorrect statements, and foolish determination. It is not surprising that Chris, the host of a "Vodka Tasting Night" could come up with such an outrageous idea.

Casting Helen Mirren in this role seems the perfect choice. She emphasizes her character's vivacious nature, and Chris seems to charm everyone she meets.

A particularly amusing aspect of the film is the effect the calendars have on Chris' family. Her son, Jem (John-Paul Macleod), in the process of releasing his stress and anger about his mother's new found sexuality and fame, gets arrested for a misguided act of rebellion. No charges are pressed because, as the arresting officer explains to Chris, "it's not a crime to smoke up with oregano."

Jem's frustration is depicted again in a scene that is both humorous and deceiving. After finding his mother's nude picture on the front page of the newspapers he is delivering, he climbs to a tall boulder. The scene is shot from below, and looks up as Jem somberly approaches the edge. Initially, the impression is that the boy is going to commit suicide by jumping. However, in a sudden fit of movement, Jem jerks his bag of newspapers open and begins to heave them over the boulder's side.

The papers flutter around and glide toward the camera, creating a scene in which the anger and frustration Jem feels is contrasted with the serenity and beauty of the falling papers.

The Calendar Girls were a huge success. The 578,000 raised by their calendar allowed them to not only fulfill their goal of buying a new sofa in John's name, but also build an entire new leukenia ward at the hospital. The film was also a huge success in Hanover last night, with students skipping gaily from the Nugget, left with a sense of optimism from the happy-go-lucky film.