Kinky Boots

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/04/06 19:58:44

"About two-thirds Monty."
3 stars (Just Average)

Just when you thought the long trend of quirky-small-town British comedies was starting to die down, along comes “Kinky Boots” to keep it rolling. The film has all the ingredients we’ve tasted in everything from “The Full Monty” to “Calendar Girls:” in some quaint corner of England, a band of unlikely heroes full of gumption decide to save whatever it is that’s valuable to them, warmhearted laughs ensuing. For “Kinky Boots,” the quaint corner is Northampton, and the band of unlikely heroes are the employees of a local shoe factory, whose owner decides the best way to stay in business is to start making “built-to-last boots for women that are men.” Because, quite frankly, women’s shoes aren’t designed to carry the weight of a man, and what’s a drag queen to do?

Along the way, everything - and I do mean everything - will play out exactly as you will predict it. Our hero will get dumped by his snooty fiancée, but find happiness in the arms of the lovely lass whose attentions he had somehow overlooked; the workers will abandon their prejudices once they get to truly know the drag queen; a falling out will cause tension just before the important shoe exposition in Italy, and will things get better in time for the Big Show?

Of course they will. Writers Geoff Deane and Tim Firth (loosely adapting their story from real events) refuse to stray from any formula or to push their issues beyond basic notions of tolerance and acceptance. The script is so blatant about its message that it puts it right there in the dialogue, repeatedly, just to reinforce the matter: “Change your mind about someone.”

At the same time, Deane and Firth are so worried about playing it safe that they forget (intentionally or not) to give the drag queen any kind of love life. She’s the safe queer, sassy enough to root for, but not so sexual that average folks (say, residents of Northampton itself), whose only exposure to such lifestyles are via “Will & Grace,” might be put off. Which is odd, considering the drag queen is constantly expressing the idea of boots being “pure sex.” This is a film that wants to pretend it’s being naughty but in reality is staying firmly in the middle of the road.

And yet “Kinky Boots” manages to be a success. Credit for this is given almost entirely to the cast, most notably Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor plays Lola, the drag queen who crosses paths with the young shoe factory owner one night in London, and he’s terrific in the role. He exudes the sexual confidence the screenplay is reluctant to push forth, never overplaying the role for comic swishiness’ sake, always maintaining a sense of believability. Hey, he even looks fabulous in drag, creating a look that’s sexually radiant. (Never thought I’d be saying that about the dude from “Dirty Pretty Things” and “Serenity.”) Ejiofor’s unbridled confidence sells the character and makes the movie; it’s the kind of performance that’s so electric that you can’t to see him on the screen again.

At his side is Aussie actor Joel Edgerton, perhaps best known Stateside for supporting roles in “King Arthur” and the “Star Wars” prequels. Edgerton, playing the aforementioned factory owner, delivers an aw-shucks likeability that also helps fuel the story. He’s charming without resorting to cliché, nervous without becoming obnoxious.

Director Julian Jarrold is wise enough to step back and let the cast (which also includes Nick Frost and the ever-lovely Sarah-Jane Potts) shine. It’s the actors that keep us watching, captivated by a story we’ve seen a hundred times before. It’s a familiar film, but Ejiofor and Edgerton keep things warm and inviting, and by the end, the smiles come all too easily.

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