Score = 3 Stars (***) Out of 4 Stars
Only the third feature released since his Oscar-winning 1997 feature "The Full Monty" director Peter Cattaneo’s "Military Wives" (Lionsgate) is cut from the same breezy, crowd-pleasing cloth.
Based in part on the four-part 2007-2009 BBC film series "The Choir" by Gareth Malone, "Military Wives" is quite comfortable to be light on deep plot and turgid dramatic friction, which should not at all be interpreted as "fluff."
In the age of COVID-19, where living rooms have (for the time being) replaced movie theaters, increased streaming has further widened the content chasm between movie fans with some gravitating towards older disaster/horror fare (think "Contagion," "Outbreak," and "Patient Zero") and trashy, bizarre reality ("Tiger King") while others seek the exact opposite type of product. Call it escapism, release, uplift or simply something not designed to make you feel antsy, fearful or sad — that is "Military Wives."
The set up is refreshingly simple and, unfortunately for some families with loved ones serving in the military, all too familiar. No matter how many times husbands, wives, siblings, sons or daughters are deployed to foreign lands to risk their lives, the resulting separation (temporary or otherwise) endured by their loved ones is equally if not more emotionally taxing.
It’s a safe bet none of these people will consider the story to anything resembling fluff.
This time is especially difficult for Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) as her only child was killed in battle and her husband Richard (Greg Wise) is about to leave for another tour of duty in Afghanistan with most of the other (male) soldiers living with their families on an unspecified British base. [In this era of hyper political-correctness, it’s surprising the filmmakers did not include at least one female soldier.] Employing her best English "stiff upper lip," Kate takes it as a matter of course, but it’s clear she’s upset.
Troubled to a slightly lesser degree is Lisa (Sharon Horgan, "Game Night") whose husband Red (Robbie Gee) is departing as well, leaving her to not only run the camp convenience store but to pull double duty trying to corral their semi-obstinate teen daughter Frankie (India Ria Amarteifio).
From the second they meet at the store, it is evident Kate and Lisa have polar opposite personalities which inevitably leads to a butting of heads, a situation that only deepens as they begin working on a community project together.
The tea-totaling Kate thinks the best way to take the spouses’ minds off of the war would be coffee while knitting but Lisa and the bulk of the (all younger) other wives would rather bend their elbows doing something more, well . . . not so thunderously square and boring.
The compromise — if that’s the right word — is to get everybody to bond while singing.
The musically astute Kate leans towards hymns and traditional stuff (again, boring) which is greeted with crickets. Almost by mistake, Lisa starts banging out "Don’t You Want Me" by The Human League (1981) on a keyboard which leads to "Shout" by Tears for Fears (1985), then to Cyndi Lauper’s "Time After Time," (1983).
Finally, they wind up on the same page.
The pairing of Lisa and Kate as not-quite foes results in instant anti-chemistry which expectedly changes in tone during the run of the narrative and buoys what is admittedly a relatively been-there, seen-that type of tale.
As she displayed with near-perfection in "Nowhere Boy," "Gosford Park" and other roles, Scott Thomas is as good as it gets when it comes to playing rigid, entrenched, tightly-wound types without ever going so far as to alienate the audience and that is exactly the case here.
Watching Kate spar with the far more carefree and congenial Lisa over this and that isn’t quite oil and water, but it's close. When Kate makes an issue of Lisa’s inability to read music, Lisa wryly retorts "the Beatles and Mozart couldn’t read music either and it didn’t seem to hurt them."
Other tongue-in-cheek rejoinders referencing "Star Wars," "Fight Club" and "Sister Act" show that writers Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn weren’t afraid to wander slightly off the beaten, safe-as-milk, chick-flick path.
The filmmakers also don’t gloss over the realities of war usually practiced in the assembly of such British situational comedies but neither do they linger with it too long.
Nonetheless, the PG-13 rating is entirely apropos and might be inappropriate or too intense for some impressionable pre-teens.
The mix of drama and comedy is balanced; it’s not just a recycled version of "Glee" or the saccharine-laden "Pitch Perfect" franchise.
"Military Wives" isn’t likely to win any major awards or set any kind of streaming pay-per-view records but it is something many audience members will adore – and not just those in the service and their families. Sometimes that’s all a movie needs to accomplish.
Available to stream on multiple platforms on May 20, 2020.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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