These Boots were made for smilin’, but you’ve seen this style before
Millions. Billy Elliot. Calendar Girls. Love, Actually. Truth be told, I’m getting a trifle sick of all these heartfelt, rife-with-whimsy British imports that hop the pond, plant a kung-fu grip on good, honest, red-blooded American heartstrings, and yank like a bull moose on fire until they wrest tears, laughter, and cathartic emotion from unsuspecting Stateside audiences. Or rather, I might be getting sick of it, had Kinky Boots (along with a few of its confectionary compatriots) not gotten its clever, unassuming hooks into me well before it started laying on the syrup, by which time all hope of a wholly, or even mostly, negative review was all but lost.
|Not exactly a pair of ruby slippers: The workers of Price & Sons shoe factory survey their handiwork.|
Shoemaker’s son Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton, who here bears an oddly striking likeness to Conan O’Brien) has grown up around his father’s factory. As the picture begins, though, Charlie is readying to leave his hometown of Northampton for the urban wilds of London, where girlfriend Nicola (Jemima Rooper) has landed a promising job. But no sooner have they arrived at their new big-city flat than Charlie receives an H-bomb of a phone call — his father has passed away, and Charlie must return home to run the Price & Sons factory. Bad news persists, as Charlie arrives to find that a massive order will not go through and the factory is in danger of going under.
When a last-ditch appeal to a London shoemaker fails to bring relief, a despondent Charlie gets himself good and liquored-up at a tavern and decides to walk home, encountering en route what appears to be a distressed damsel being accosted by a group of unrulies. Drunkenly, he tries to intercede, but ends up getting clocked by a high-heeled, eponymous boot; he wakes to find himself in the dressing room of Soho’s premiere drag diva — a thickish ex-boxer and cabaret singer who’s taken the name “Lola.” An (un)likely allegiance begins to take shape, and a plan along with it: Charlie will chuck factory tradition and aim squarely for the largely untapped female-impersonators-in-need-of-thigh-high-snakeleather-sex-boots market, with Lola on board as designer. (Got it?) A worldwide shoe-designers’ expo in Milan serves to ratchet up the stakes; Charlie surmises that if Price & Sons’ new designs are a hit in Italy — classic home of the deus ex machina — their problems will be now and forever gone, natch.
Dir. Julian Jarrold; writ. Geoff Deane, Tim Firth; feat. Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Jemima Rooper, Nick Frost (R)
Not that I’m reluctant to recommend this movie. (Watch this: Go see Kinky Boots.) (What?) And not that I’m even particularly averse to a dash of the sweet stuff now and again — I’ll happily take “mainstream” calculated criers like Field of Dreams or almost-too-bright bits Amélie over bathetic, overblown, humorless schlock of the Million-Dollar-Baby ilk or “respected,” watch-me-I’m-edgy fare like Requiem (I get it, Darren — heroin sucks; stop punching me in the face). Most certainly, Kinky Boots belongs, in spirit, to the former clan. Though it begins snappily, with assured, sharp direction and screenwriting that, for a while, staves off stereotype, it ultimately gets too tidy and brief in dealing with the pain and fear of its protagonists. There are happy endings and there are rushed, contrived endings, and Kinky’s (though based, apparently, on one humdinger of a true story) tends regrettably toward you-know-which. The acting is better than solid (critics will rightfully rave about Chiwetel Ejiofor, though he comes off a little theatrical, even for a drag queen), and Jarrold’s engaging camerawork and astute pacing (ups to editrix Emma Hickox) keep you in it until things go into “sugary-crowd-pleaser” mode. And trust: It does. Sometimes, though, if a flick puts in the work throughout, you can be a mite forgiving when it tries so durned hard to make you leave with a smile.