Director Peter Cattaneo did The Full Monty almost 25 years ago, and this has the same vibe (although it’s not nearly as good). Military Wives might be derivative and predictable, but it’s also enjoyable. And that’s surprising, considering how bad I thought the trailers for this looked.
The movie was inspired by the true story of the Military Wives Choir in the UK, and it’s a great break for Cattaneo that he landed his two lead actresses. I’ve adored Kristin Scott Thomas since The English Patient (1996), and of course, she’s great in The Horse Whisperer, Four Weddings, and everything else.
Irish actress Sharon Horgan came to my attention in the funniest comedy of last year — Game Night. She was terrific as the ringer brought by the dumb guy to help him finally win. In this, Thomas plays the stuffy, stiff-upper-lip character, and Horgan is the one that wants the women to have a little fun. She thinks singing should be like having a few beers and embarrassing yourself at a karaoke bar. Thomas thinks you need to learn all the scales and do everything right and proper.
Kate (Scott Thomas) is the wife of a colonel on the Flitcroft military base where they all live. She feels like she has to be a bit of an authority figure, as well as the one that keeps spirits up for the women.
Lisa (Horgan) is the wife of a new officer, who is having difficulty dealing with a rebellious teen daughter. Since these two butt heads from the beginning, I was pleasantly surprised that Kate never pulls rank on her.
It’s refreshing that they’re so matter-of-fact about the diversity among the military families. There’s a mixed race couple as well as a lesbian couple, but it’s not being pointed out to us. It never feels forced.
Early on we find out that Kate has lost her son in war, so it helps us forgive her bossy ways. She feels she knows what’s best to keep the women’s minds off the dangers their spouses face and social activities are the way to do that. Who cares if the women don’t want to knit (or don’t know how to), they start a knitting night.
As in most movies like this, we hear a group of people trying to sing, butchering pop songs we all know. They belt out “Don’t You Want Me” by Human League (that song was done very humorously by John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei in Cyrus), Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” (done hysterically in Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion); Dido’s “Thank You” is in there, and it seems like it was rather cathartic for the women to belt out “Shout” by Tears For Fears.
Of course, Kate would rather they sing the choir classics, not pop tunes.
When the two women bicker, you’re not supposed to side with one over the other, although most will gravitate towards the more freewheeling Lisa; but both of these women have their good and bad sides, and knowing that they both care about the group of women, you don’t take sides. There is one fight they have though, that is just heartbreaking in what they scream at each other. Again, you won’t take sides, you’ll just be sitting there in shock.
There were moments of this that reminded me of The Messenger (Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson) and Last Flag Flying (Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell). Unlike those movies, it doesn’t really have many comedic moments, which would have served it well. At least it’s not cheesy, which this story could have easily become. We watch the women start to bond with each other and their confidence builds, all in an organic way.
When the women get the opportunity to perform on the big stage in front of the nation, will they choke? Will they be bumped for a big name singer instead? Will they cover another pop song? I think you know the answer to one of those questions, and so I’ll merely tell you this — the song at a big moment…each line of the lyrics brought a tear to my eye. Although I cry easily at things (Cats in the Cradle still gets me, and I’ve heard that hundreds of times).
3 ½ stars out of 5.