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April 21, 2006

 

Yes, they're
made for walking

The latest film in the ‘Full Monty’ vein is another pleaser

Family tradition is a prison from which few truly escape.

Parental expectations hang heavily on your shoulders, and many people follow the path of least resistance to the life their parents want them to lead.

For others, however, it is a sense of duty, rather than an unwillingness to struggle against the weight of family obligations. This is made clear in the British import film Kinky Boots.

Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) is ready to move to London with his fiancée Nicola and start a new life away from his family’s shoe factory in Northampton. His father can run the family business and by the time his tenure is up, Charlie will be well-established, perhaps with a few youngsters running about underfoot.

Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men, as Robert Burns wrote.

Charlie’s father has the gall to die of a massive heart attack, leaving Charlie to sort through a fiscal mess. It seems Price and Sons Shoes was in a bit of bind financially, after a major order fell through when a retailer went bankrupt.

Forced to lay off over a dozen workers at the factory, people with whom he grew up, the younger Mr. Price begins to despair. His mood is not improved by Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts), a young woman who was just “made redundant,” to use the British term. She is the only one of his employees who stands up and asks him what he will do to fix the problem, a question that weighs on his mind as he gets drunk in London.

Stumbling out of a pub, more than half in the bag, he sees a woman being chased down an alley by some hooligans, running with a broken heel.

Being a relatively chivalrous young man from the Midlands of England, he follows them and tells the young toughs to leave the lady alone--a request that elicits laughter.

The “lady,” a six-foot tall black drag queen, tries to defend herself by swinging her thigh-high, broken-heeled red boot. But she accidentally clocks Charlie, knocking him unconscious.

Charlie, meet Lola, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Lola’s couture conundrum gives Charlie an idea: Why not create glamorous girly boots that can hold the weight of a tall, muscular man, instead of forcing transvestites and drag queens to rely on women’s shoes which often fail under the stress of a drag performance.

Lola, or Simon as he is called when he’s in boy clothing, comes back to Northampton to oversee production of Kinky Boots, spreading a little understanding to the locals and expanding Charlie’s horizons.

Charlie’s fiancée Nicola doesn’t understand why he is fighting so hard to keep the factory afloat, especially when it turns out that his father had been looking to sell the darned thing. Nicola, unfortunately, doesn’t understand honor and the duty Charlie feels to his employees, many of whom have been working for his family for their entire adult lives.

The stress of his arguments with Nicola, combined with the headaches of getting the new line off the ground, cause him to lash out at Lola, perhaps driving her away forever.

Will Charlie be able to get everything and everyone together in time for the big Milan footwear show?

This latest installment in the “British working class pull-through genre,” which also includes Calendar Girls--by the same producers--and The Full Monty, is sure to please. The humor is there in abundance, as well as the warmth. The film is also based on a true story.

There are also a number of drag performances, many sung by Ejiofor, who has a beautiful, rich voice. It’s interesting to see a drag act without lip-synching, and it’s quite fulfilling.

And, of course, Ejiofor has the best lines, which one supposes is his right, since he spends much of the movie in six-inch stiletto heels.

For instance, when asked whether he is a “tranny,” a drag queen, or what, he replies that he is a drag queen.

“A tranny puts on a frock and looks like Boris Yeltsin in lipstick. A drag queen puts on a frock and looks like Kylie,” he purrs, referring to Australian singer and glamour girl Kylie Minogue.

In fact, Ejiofor steals the film completely. It is his film from start to finish. Having appeared recently in films running the gamut from the sci-fi Western Serenity to a duo of Spike Lee films (She Hate Me and Inside Man), Ejiofor might just be the hardest-working man in show biz.

Sarah-Jane Potts is a close second. All through the movie, the audience begs for a chance to see the rehired Lauren knock Nicola out, an epic battle equaled only by the struggle between the Jedi and the Sith in the Stars Wars series. Nicola is only slightly less likable than the Emperor . . .

It is interesting how paternal expectations are integral to the film. Charlie had a supportive father who was willing to let him explore his own path, while Simon/Lola’s father was a hard man who wanted his son to be hard as well.

Somehow, both boys turned out to be okay.

 

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