Synopsis: With their partners away serving in Afghanistan, a group of women on the home front form a choir and quickly find themselves at the center of a media sensation and global movement.
Stars: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Jason Flemyng, Greg Wise, Emma Lowndes, Gaby French
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: One of the last movies I was scheduled to see before this pandemic hit was Military Wives and I have to say, I was disappointed to be missing it. Yes, I know that the #StayHome and #StaySafe orders were for the best and I am in full support of social distancing in order to kick COVID-19 to the curb (what will people think reading this in a few years?) but I was seriously in the mood for something that looked as joyously heartwarming as Military Wives looked to be. Though you could literally see the plot points developing while the trailer was unspooling it was no matter, sometimes it is OK to know the route before leaving the station.
The chance to get to see this early did present itself, though, so I found myself watching a screener of this during a particularly glum week and I have to say, it really did the trick in brightening a mood. Even though it deals with some emotional subjects and is, at times, a heart-tugging tearjerker, this is the kind of film made to turn on during a dark period. It’s bright, it’s light, and it while it is disappointingly not as deep or as sensitively profound as I thought it would be there’s so much good will being poured into it that it’s hard not to give over to its charms at one point or another.
At the Flitcroft Military Base, families are preparing to say goodbye to their loves ones that are shipping out on active duty for a tour in Afghanistan. In order to stay busy, the spouses/partners of the soldiers serving try to stay busy with events organized by the partner of the second in command. Previously, this was tightly-wound Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) but with her husband (Greg Wise, Last Christmas) now the highest level officer at the base, that role now falls to Lisa (Sharon Horgan, Game Night) who is more loose with her definition of organized activity. When Lisa’s experience with choral work is brought up, the ladies decide to start a choir leading to a power struggle between Lisa and Kate. With little initial energy behind the choral club from the members and the leaders, it takes a shocking wake-up call to remind the group of their strength and how important their role as caregivers are.
I’ll say off the bat that those expecting a raucous comedy about a dysfunctional choir that starts off bad and turns into an overnight sensation after a series of hysterical antics should likely go back and dust off their copy of Sister Act (actually, do that anyway) because that’s not exactly the movie we have here. Screenwriters Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard have taken a true-life story and fictionalized it, letting the Flitcroft Military Choir be the amalgam for a number of choirs that came together during the Afghanistan deployment back in 2008 and their focus is not entirely on laughs but on humor…if that makes sense. Most of the comedy is derived from the ladies reluctance to participate in the chorus, only to be swayed when they begin to gel as one as they find their voices as a group. Scenes that you think are headed for a comic punchline either veer in a different direction or don’t go anywhere at all, at times it feels like Flynn and Tunnard are afraid to stray too far into comedic shenanigans, even though the movie might have derived some needed energy from these flights of fancy.
This being a film about loved ones engaged in war you may be able to guess at least one of the poignant moments – and you know it’s coming but just not when or to whom. Thankfully, the screenwriters spare us the suspense and don’t make that the event that the final act hinges on but rather what pushes it forward. The real heavy emotional lifting is done by Scott Thomas playing the wife grieving the loss of her son killed in battle left behind by a husband also unable to cope with his sorrow. Had the movie shifted the focus to be more on Scott Thomas and used her involvement with choir as a way toward her finding healing, I have a feeling it would have been more successful. As it is, there’s just not enough story or character development to go around the numerous (appealing) supporting cast that doesn’t get much in the way of fleshed out story arcs. Even the talented Horgan can’t drum up much interest and though she’s meant to be a co-lead she’s often overshadowed by Scott Thomas solely because her character isn’t as well-defined.
Director Peter Cattaneo found unexpected triumph (and an Oscar nomination) over twenty years for the quirky delight that was The Full Monty and as much as the marketing materials want you to believe this is another slam dunk like that was, it isn’t. That’s not to say Military Wives is without its own share of rich moments of humanity…it’s just that there aren’t quite as many opportunities as there could have been. It follows a standard formula that gets the job done but is workmanlike in its delivery. Though it culminates with a moving performance at the Royal Albert Hall and features a typically fantastic performance from School Thomas, Military Wives winds up just under pitch.