I am often considered to be a cynical curmudgeon and even an elitist bastard — the latter, I think, mostly because I prefer, say, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou to Ron Burgundy: Anchorman. The charges have some merit; I wouldn’t argue the point. I am, however, not sufficiently cynical, curmudgeonly or elitist to be immune to the charms of Julian Jarrold’s unashamedly sentimental and unabashedly predictable Kinky Boots.
The film is cut from the same cloth as such more or less genteel crowd pleasers as The Full Monty and Calendar Girls, all three of them existing as extremely movie-fied versions of “true” stories. One could say that these films don’t represent the events as they happened, so much as they reinvent them as we might wish they had happened. Little occurs in them that’s surprising, though Kinky Bootsdoes a nice job of fulfilling expectations.
Despite its drag-queen hero, it’s hardly a daring film. Rest assured that its drag queen is effectively neutered. He has no boyfriend, nor any hint of one. There’s no “hot guy-on-guy” action here. The reader who was so incensed over my recommendation of Pedro Almodovar’s Bad Education can go to Kinky Boots without fear of offense. None of this, however, keeps the film from being entertaining in its own right, on its own terms. In fact, it’s a surprisingly layered work in terms of characterization.
The story is straightforward enough. A young man, Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton, Star Wars: Episode III), with a patently unsuitable, avaricious fiancee, Nicola (Jemima Rooper, A Sound of Thunder), inherits his father’s failing shoe factory. When he fires (or makes redundant) plucky Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts, Breaking Down), she has the nerve to tell him he should try to do something to save the factory and its jobs, such as find a niche market and cater to it. The niche market he finds is an unusual one — making high-quality “kinky boots” that can withstand the weight of drag queens.
Tapping Lauren as his marketing specialist (and drag queen), Lola/Simon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as his designer, he sets out to reinvent the factory. What happens should be pretty transparent to anyone who’s seen more than a few movies, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable or satisfying.
It would be easy — and not wholly incorrect — to lay all the credit for the film’s success at the stiletto-heeled feet of Chiwetel Ejiofor. One of the most charismatic and remarkable actors of our time, Ejiofor entered the public consciousness with his stunning work in Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things a few years back, and even if few of his subsequent roles have been that good (Woody Allen’s Melinda and Melinda being the only film to utilize his talents fully), the actor has never been less than fascinating.
Here he has another role worthy of his talent and he makes the most of it, imbuing the character with depths the film scarcely hints at. The suggestion that Simon is just a little bit in love with Charlie, for example, is strictly in Ejiofor’s performance. The script has him in a kind of (excuse me) fairy godmother mode bringing the lead characters together. Ejiofor gives it an undercurrent of wistfulness and pain.
But the film itself is good, and TV director Julian Jarrold evidences remarkable stylishness in his first theatrical outing. Still, it’s Ejiofor who takes the film from the realm of good into something verging on greatness. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving sexuality, and for language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke