Review: Calendar Girls
by Marta Bałaga
- Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen’s good-natured Swedish documentary feels way too familiar, and not just because of that title
At the risk of sounding like someone who has been watching too many movies, which is probably true, it would be extremely easy to get confused here: Calendar Girls is also a 2003 comedy featuring Helen Mirren as one of the Yorkshire ladies deciding to, in a nutshell, strip for charity. Now, in a documentary by Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen also called Calendar Girls [+see also:
film profile], others decide to follow suit, albeit fully clothed.
Florida’s dance group for women over 50, whose delightful motto is “maturity in motion”, uses “dance and entertainment to raise awareness and funding for a variety of charities,” it states on their website, particularly favouring Southeastern Guide Dogs, which trains guide dogs for the visually impaired, veterans, and youth and children. While their story is obviously film-worthy, Loohufvud and Martinsen (in their feature debut, screening in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at Sundance) make it feel very, very familiar. Once again, it’s about living life to the fullest, empowerment that can be found in the company of like-minded women and proving that you are never too old to follow your passion. Which is all fine and commendable, but ultimately makes for a proposition that would be much better suited to at-home viewing. Then again, in the age of online festivals, that sentence might have lost all meaning already.
The directors’ only attempt at originality comes with their decision to stage some musical sequences with the protagonists. Nothing too fancy, mind you: they are very simple, pointing out – one assumes – that these women’s love for dance and performing goes way beyond scheduled practice. Now, it has infiltrated their everyday lives. Perhaps it would have worked better if they had been a bit more elaborate, inviting a sense of some joyful Ginger Rogers fantasy, as instead of inspiring, they just bring to mind the creativity of something like The Act of Killing [+see also:
film profile], where Joshua Oppenheimer’s protagonists were given a chance to feel like movie stars for a second, reenacting their disturbing actions to chilling effect.
Then again, here, fantasy really needs to be earned – be it by decorating your own unicorn headdress, juggling odd jobs, or even negotiating with one of those glued-to-the-couch husbands who, as is heartbreakingly shown here, doesn’t want his wife to have fun. The ladies dance, learn new steps and go from show to show, but they also open up about their reality, and needless to say, there is loneliness, illness and even incarceration that they have to deal with. In addition, what they do is fun, but it’s also a serious commitment, and if you can’t comply with the rules, make no mistake – you will be out, taking your unicorn headdress with you.
“I found my creative bug, and now it’s bugging me,” says one of the girls, ready to make some serious changes while in her seventies, as giving up her passion is something she is just not willing to do. And why would she? After a lifetime of giving others their time, now they want to spend their days, or even their very last years, dancing in a sparkly leotard and “patriotic antlers”. Here’s hoping they will.
Calendar Girls was produced by Sweden’s Pink Dolphin.
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