Sorry, but I can’t resist blurbing out that “Military Wives” is … wait for it … here we go …
THE FEEL-GOOD MOVIE OF THE YEAR!
In the grand tradition of twee British comedies such as “The Full Monty” and “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain” and “Calendar Girls,” this is a lightweight confection of a film, as predictable and familiar and comfortable as your favorite old chair, which makes it perfect viewing fare for these quarantined times. Even though there’s a tragic offscreen death and a devastatingly brutal confrontation scene between the two leads, “Military Wives” is like that one friend of yours who’s always in a good mood and is forever lifting everyone’s spirits, even at somber occasions and during the toughest of times.
Director Peter Cattaneo, who helmed the aforementioned “The Full Monty,” adheres to a similar mixture of drama and comedy here in a story inspired by the true-life stories of the Military Wives Choirs, a network of some 100 singing groups in British bases across the United Kingdom and overseas, as featured in the U.K. reality series “The Choir.” In this fictionalized version, the forever-lovely and wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas (who grew up on military bases and tragically lost her father and her stepfather to flying accidents) plays Kate, the uptight, upper-crust wife of Richard (Greg Wise), the colonel in charge of the base, who is off on his fifth tour of duty, this time in Afghanistan, taking virtually all of the other men on the base with him. This leaves the military wives to tend to their children, work part-time jobs at the local stores and shops — and participate in all sorts of forced-fun and deadly dull activities, such as Coffee Club and Knitting Club.
Kate suggests they form a choir, a very proper and formal choir where everyone must stick to the sheet music and sing traditional songs and maintain their dignity. Sharon Horgan’s Lisa, a free spirit with some musical training, has a very different vision for the choir. Why don’t they have some, you know, FUN? To Kate’s horror, Lisa encourages the group to let loose on infectious 1980s power-pop classics such as Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” Tears for Fears’ “Shout” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Within weeks, they’re singing up a storm as we get to know the archetypes in the choir, from the wallflower Jess (Gaby French), who has a voice like Grace Potter, to the sweet newlywed Sarah (Amy James-Kelly), who’s a nervous wreck during her husband’s first tour of duty, to the cheerfully oblivious Ruby (Lara Rossi), who has no idea her voice makes nails on a chalkboard sound like a lullaby.
As the choir makes its Rocky-esque ascent (there’s even a direct reference to “Rocky” in this movie) to unlikely greatness, culminating in a command performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the curtain is pulled back on the private lives of the military wives. The formal, clout-wielding, control freak Kate is repressing her grief over the loss of her only son, who was killed in action. She copes by watching home shopping channels on her laptop and purchasing mountains of products she doesn’t need and doesn’t even un-box in most cases. Meanwhile, Lisa is at odds with her rebellious teenage daughter Frankie (India Amarteifilo) and telling her the one thing kids never want to hear: “I just don’t want you making the mistake I made when I was your age.”
We can see every plot development coming a mile down the road. We know these plucky gals are going to bond, suffer setbacks, bond some more, suffer some more setbacks, and then double down on the bonding game. We know there’s a karaoke scene in the offing. We know Kate and Lisa will keep on clashing until there’s an enormous blow-up where terrible things are said and feelings are badly bruised, and hmmmm, will they ever reconcile and realize they have much more in common than either has been able to admit?
That’s fine. That’s the whole idea: to keep us entertained, to touch our hearts, to have us tapping our toes to the music and singing along with the choir, right until the climactic performance that will bring a tear to the eye of even the most stoic of viewers.