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The Women’s Institute is, well, an institution in Great Britain. (Think Martha Stewart for somewhat frumpy British women.) These women’s clubs encourage the old-fashioned arts of jam-making, flower-pressing, baking and knitting—and deathly boring guest speakers at monthly meetings. Who, after all, really needs to know the history of broccoli? Their yearly fundraising calendars are, naturally, equally boring, with photos of flowers and the bridges of Yorkshire.
When Annie’s husband, John, succumbs to leukemia, her lifelong friend, Chris, determines to help the grieving widow by honoring his death. She decides to devote the money raised by that year’s calendar to buy a new sofa for the hospital’s waiting room, on which she and Annie had spent many an hour. But the average yearly take of 75 pounds will not begin to cover the 900 pounds needed for a good piece of furniture.
How to generate more revenue? After seeing a girlie calendar at the local bicycle repair shop, Chris gets an idea. This movie, based on a true story, shows just how far friends will go—and just how naked they'll get—to help one of their own ...
Both Chris and Annie deeply love their husbands. The power of friendship and loyalty get a great showing in this movie. Chris and the other women are willing to overcome natural inhibitions to help a grieving widow (a positive that turns into quite a negative as reflected in "Sexual Content").
Every male in the movie is chivalrous, even a teenage boy. The only suitable photographer they can find is male, and rather than jump at the opportunity to photograph nude women (an idea a typical Hollywood producer might have put in the film) he is genuinely uncomfortable at having to do this. In a back-door way, the jealousies and family discord that arise in this story show the necessity of a strong marriage and a humble spirit.
The women open every meeting by singing the hymn “Jerusalem.”
Even though this movie is ultimately about nude women on a calendar, it's not overtly sexual. In fact, only a couple brief flashes of breast nudity and a woman’s bare buttocks makes it onscreen as the women pose behind strategically placed fruitcakes, flower arrangements or music folders. A woman flips through the pages of a pinup calendar (nothing explicit is seen). Sadly, a mother who finds pornographic magazines under her son’s bed (nothing of the content is shown) just laughs and kisses him on the forehead.
Repeated jokes are made about the actor George Clooney (who never appears in the film) and “the firmness of his buttocks.” Two teenage boys engage in a protracted conversation trying to come up with a perfect description of a girl’s breasts. One woman agrees to pose for the calendar, so long as there are no “front bottoms.” She says, “I saved that for only one man.” When a friend asks, “Oh, your husband?” she says with a snicker, “He wasn’t my husband.” An unmarried 50-ish woman agrees to pose, saying, “If I’m not going to flip them out now, when will I?” When one woman takes off her blouse, the photographer jokes about the size of her breasts.
Crude or Profane Language
One s-word and a handful of milder profanity and crude sexual slang. God's name is misused about a dozen times. A woman is called a bastard. Frequent use of British crudities include "bloody" and "s-d off."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine and beer makes numerous appearances. A woman seeing the surreal entries in a baking contest jokes that there’s no longer any need for hallucinogenic drugs. A man drinks a glass of wine before going to bed. Men in a pub drink pints of beer and smoke cigarettes. Two boys get drunk on a bottle of wine and then are arrested while smoking pot. (They’re released because it turns out to be oregano.) A beer company sponsors the printing of the calendars. A photographer rolls his own cigarettes. A woman drinks wine poolside.
Other Negative Elements
The few people who object to the idea of posing nude for the calendar are portrayed as uptight, prudish fuddy-duddies. One woman tells her daughter, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” at which the daughter replies, “I already have.” One woman cheats in a baking contest by entering a store-bought cake—she wins—and then later lies her way into a conference. A mother severely embarrasses her teenage son by posing in the calendar.
At the end of the movie, it's indicated that the calendar has raised 750,000 pounds (nearly $1 million) for leukemia research, certainly a good cause. Yet my feelings toward this movie should be the new dictionary entry for “ambivalent.” There are powerful lessons of love, friendship, loyalty and sacrifice, as well as cautionary lessons on marriage, child-rearing and having an inflated ego. The film is also to be commended for playing up the natural modesty of the women, even though they all eventually “overcome” it. But the sexual undertones and all the joking that go along with photographing the calendar undercut that case. In short, Calendar Girls is a touching, funny movie with plenty of positive messages, but lots of families are going to have to X it off their schedules because of sexual jokes and brief nudity.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Helen Mirren as Chris; Julie Walters as Annie; John Alderton as John; Ciaran Hinds as Rod; Jay Leno makes a cameo appearance as Himself
Nigel Cole ( A Lot Like Love)