As a rite of passage, American children join the scouts. Older British women, as a similar rite of passage, join the National Federation of Women's Institutes, shortened to the W.I. by its faithful members. The group holds true the notions of enlightenment, fun, and friendship, though lately they've been in a rut. Guest speakers to the group have brought the latest news on cauliflower. Not quite headline-worthy material.
If Annie (Julie Walters) seems distracted, it's because she has plenty of other things on her mind. Her husband, John (John Alderton) has fallen ill, struck down by the Big "C." Chemotherapy doesn't work, and John eventually succumbs to his illness. Annie couldn't assist her husband in life, so she swears to do something for his name in death. She aims to raise enough money to purchase a comfortable couch for the family waiting room at the local hospital, and Annie's best friend, Chris (Helen Mirren), knows just how they're going to do it.
Chris suggests that the annual W.I. calendar - usually a collection of churches, steeples, and antiquated architecture - be a collection of different antiques this year. She pitches the idea of a tastefully nude pictorial featuring the ladies of the W.I. The idea stays true to a poem John wrote on the women of Yorkshire. Like the flowers of Yorkshire, which he worked with religiously, he says, "the last phase is the most glorious."
John was on to something, and Calendar's gaggle of senior spice girls proves it. The movie features solid comedic turns across the board, increasing in strength and courage as the fruit of their labor - the nude calendar - becomes a global success. The women form a senior sorority bouncing through a Spring Break fairy tale in the winters of their lives. Girls fills that sassy feminine void of comedy left by Bea Arthur, Betty White, and the rest of television's Golden Girls. They're amused by each other, and keep us entertained in the process.
Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth's uncomplicated screenplay works in an expected obstacle or two. Husbands and sons disapprove of the calendar. As we're reminded by Annie's character, this isn't France it's the Queen's England, and this sort of thing is frowned on. And the group's success - an the ensuing celebrity - eventually goes to Chris' head.
Mirren, an accomplished dramatic actress, showcases a casual yet precise comedic timing that adds bounce to the material. She's luminous, headstrong and highly motivational, the perfect persona to jump start the hesitant woman of the W.I. and the right actress to dryly deliver the line, "Can anyone see my nipples?" Walters lends a soft, supportive voice. Philip Glenister gets good laughs as Lawrence, the ladies' jittery, embarrassed, and altogether British photographer.
The Brits would describe Girls' humor as "chirpy." We call it sarcasm. Directed by Nigel Cole with a light touch, the picture's flawlessly tempered by Mirren and Walters' uncanny ability to step back and smirk at it all.
Deleted scenes and two short documentaries (including interviews with the real calendar girls) round out the DVD extras.
Make love to the camera, ladies.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 1st January 2004
Box Office USA: $30.9M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Harbour Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 90 Rotten: 31
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Nigel Cole
Starring: Helen Mirren as Chris Harper, Julie Walters as Annie Clarke, John Alderton as John Clarke, Linda Bassett as Cora, Annette Crosbie as Jessie, Philip Glenister as Lawrence Sertain, Ciarán Hinds as Rod Harper, Celia Imrie as Celia, Geraldine James as Marie, Penelope Wilton as Ruth