MILITARY WIVES – Review
The upcoming holiday (in just a couple of days) may prove difficult to observe. Memorial Day was established (formerly Decoration Day) to remember and honor those who died while serving in the armed forces. But with the current crisis, group gatherings are discouraged (in some areas they’re outright banned for more than ten people), and many might feel unsafe (social distancing and all that) at cemeteries, One option could be this new film that will be available for home viewing (since most cinemas are still shuttered), a comedy/drama that’s inspired by true events (the main characters are composites while others are fictional). It’s all about a group of women, spouses of soldiers, who thought that a great way to honor those away (and support those behind) was to raise their voices in song. This new film is about a choir that inspired several groups around the world, all composed of MILITARY WIVES.
Nerves are on edge at the Flitcroft military base in England as several soldiers prepare to be shipped out to Afghanistan. Newly arriving during this tense time is Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), wife of the just transferred (and soon to be deployed) company commander Richard (Greg Wise). She pops into the on-base post office/ general store and encounters (awkwardly) its manager Lisa (Sharon Horgan). After the troops depart, Kate decides that she must do something to lift the morale of the wives waiting for word. This puts her together with Lisa, who is the new chair of the base’s Social Committee. During a big meeting of all the spouses, Kate proposes many social and educational outings (museum visits, film appreciation night), while Lisa wants to just continue on with a weekly dinner potluck (including a big post and pre happy hour). Not wanting to encourage any tippling, Kate suggests forming clubs. The first meeting of the Knitting Club quickly devolves into a wine fest. Hearing of this, Kate decides to play a more active role and teams with Lisa on the Music/choral Club. While Kate promotes all manner of music formality (reading sheet scores, conducting, and singing the classics), Lisa wants to just print out the words and “wing it’ on several pop music anthems and ballads. Somehow after much “head butting” the choir sounds pretty decent. Actually, so good that one of the visiting commanders gets them an invitation to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London for the annual Festival of Remembrance. Can this diverse group of women keep a cool head as the big concert day approaches? And will Kate and Lisa clash has the pressure increases?
The story’s focus and strength is the conflict between the choir’s duo directors, fortunately, they’re played by two exceptional veteran actresses. From the big screen (hard to believe that it was 34 years ago when she made her movie debut opposite Prince in UNDER THE CHERRY MOON), Thomas shines as the button-down, by the rules, no hair out of place, prim and proper Kate. But a lot of turmoil boils beneath her placid manner. We learn that she and Richard lost a son on the battlefield recently, as Kate insists that a final photo of him and his much-loved auto stay tacked to the fridge rather than in a frame on the wall (“Too formal”, she says, but perhaps it’s her rebelling against convention). Every morning she passes by that car as it fossilizes in the driveway. And what’s her secret way of coping with the grief (other than starting clubs and day trips)? Not booze or pills, but home-shopping TV. Yes, that gets a few laughs, but Thomas infuses a real life force into Kate making her more than a cliche straight man (well, woman). A formidable adversary, Lisa, is played by a comedy great mainly known for her small-screen work (she co-created and co-starred in Amazon Prime’s sublime sitcom “Catastrophe”), Ms. Horan, who masters the subtlest of “eye rolls”. We see that as Kate first invades her “sacred” retail space and runs “rough-shod” over her desire to just hang with her “lady-pals” and “get pissed”. She’s also hiding a secret, a crippling fear that the doorbell will ring, plunging her into widowhood and crumbling her “tough lass” armor. It’s her re-kindled love of music that lets her soar, even as her rebellious teen daughter Frankie (India Ria Amartelfio) pushes the boundaries, trying to grow up far too fast. To her chagrin Frankie has a bit of an ally in Kate, but it may be another way to annoy Mum. Quietly compelling is Amy James-Kelly as Sarah, another new addition to the base and a newlywed, who grasps for the choir rehearsal as a lifeline to take her mind away from the nightmares around her childhood sweetheart. In a lighter role, Lara Rossi gets lots of laughs as the camp hairdresser missing her wife along with any sense of tone and pitch, convinced that she’s placed in the very back due to her unique vocal stylings. And Wise is most compassionate and “rock solid” as a devoted hubby determined to pull his wife out of the quicksand of grief while controlling her aggravation at all the boxed useless merch filling every closet shelf (“Really, an inflatable mattress?”).
Director Peter Cattaneo utilizes a few elements of his biggest movie “crowd-pleaser”, THE FULL MONTY, mixes in some PITCH PERFECT toe-tapping tunes, and comes up with an inspiring female-empowering riff on the old “let’s put on a show” musical plots. The women stumble, fall, and get right back up, verbally “dusting each other” with praise and encouragement, especially for the painfully shy Mom who just “blows the roof off’ when she thinks nobody’s watching her (even warbling while blindfolded in rehearsal). Ah, but this isn’t a sweet and sunny, all’s swell cable TV fodder. That dreaded call does come for one member as they consider passing on their big showcase invite. This is a prelude to the film’s big emotional scene (in an action film it would be the “running toward the camera, from the approaching fireball) as Kate and Lisa pull no emotional punches in a verbal pummeling just before what should be the big night of triumph. Really, some lines will make you wince while thinking “Oh, she can never take that back!”. But it does lead to a most delightful, heart-wrenching climax tune that Cattaneo saves for the finale (no rehearsal bits) and plays out in “real-time”. Sure, he indulges in a few too many “getting it together” montages and dwells a bit too long on some boozy karaoke, but the bonding and building of friendships makes up for those indulgences. This leads up to a final pre-credit multi-screen collage that literally sends out MILITARY WIVES on a very sweet high note. Now there’s some impressive troop-support!
3 out of 4
MILITARY WIVES screens in select cinemas and is available as a VOD purchase on most cable and satellite systems. It’s also digitally streaming on most streaming apps and platforms along with HULU.