Kinky Boots
directed by Julian Jarrold
(Miramax, 2006)

Harold Price runs a Northampton shoe factory that's been cranking out wingtips ever since men first discovered they had feet. His son, Charlie, however, doesn't seem eager to follow in dad's footsteps. So Charlie (Joel Edgerton), who's never been held in high esteem by the shoe factory employees, announces he'll be heading to London with his bride, Nicola (Jemina Rooper), where she'll sell real estate and he'll try his hand at marketing.

There the young couple seems to be on the verge of happiness never-ending, until Charlie receives word that his father (Robert Pugh) has suddenly and unexpectedly died. Always the good son, Charlie returns to Northampton, where he tries his best to put the Price Shoe Co. on a firm footing -- until he discovers that no one is buying the hundreds of wingtips the family firm has been cranking out: The factory had lost the contract it was working on, and Dad was simply piling up shoes in the back room.

And it all might have ended there, had Charlie not stumbled out of a London pub one night and into a confrontation between local drag queen, Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and three "admirers." Something about Lola -- combined with some advice from an employee he'd laid off, about finding a niche market -- inspires Charlie to scrap wingtips for kinky boots.

Kinky Boots has been compared to The Full Monty -- no doubt by promoters who'd like to see it rake in as much money as The Full Monty did -- and there clearly are similarities. The actors in both movies have English accents, and both films address the theme of English workers losing their jobs and the need to make some unorthodox adjustments to earn a living.

But Kinky Boots takes on a special challenge: bringing together Northampton, where the men are men and the women are women, and London, where the women are women but some of the men, by their own admission, have yet to make up their minds. For Lola, it seems, is just the tip of a very hot iceberg: she's a cabaret singer backed by a whole chorus of Lola wannabes.

Still, the operative question is whether Charlie and Lola can come up with a kinky boot designed for men who want to dress as women that can overwhelm the jaded audience at the Milan shoe exposition, which is coming up in another five weeks. Adding to the complications are a shoe factory employee (Nick Frost) who wants no part of Lola -- though he did before he realized Lola was a he -- and Nicola, who can't understand why Charlie doesn't simply sell the factory to a real estate developer who's interested in it and move on.

But Kinky Boots isn't just about plot complications, of which there's no shortage, or the "true story," according to the credits, on which the film is based. It's also about people, and it's often when the people step forward that the film is at its best.

First there's Charlie, who up until the closing frames looks like a slightly overwhelmed schoolboy in just about every situation screenwriters Geoff Deane and Tim Firth put him in. Then there's Lola, who's lived her life in rebellion against a father who tried to make a real man out of her -- er, him. And then there are the shoe factory workers, most notably Don, who are asked to accept something that just doesn't happen every day -- or any day -- in Northampton. Together they produce a surprising number of variations on the film's theme of "fitting in," whatever that means.

Then there's the dialogue, which is just fun from the word go. Lola probably gets the best of it, including one gem given her when Charlie first returns to her door to get help testing his kinky boot design: "All this way for my advice? I feel like Oprah."

Add to that the vivid camerawork and lighting -- both at their best when Lola and crew go into their song and dance at the cabaret, but fine throughout. Milan has never looked so good, and the denouement provides an image you'll never see on Project Runway.

On the downside, Kinky Boots does have its problems: too many plot complications, for example, which force the tide to change directions a little too quickly a little too often. And often complications are resolved in ways that can best be described as heartwarming. OK, let's be honest: sappy. But in the end, Kinky Boots is a touching film that's beautifully photographed, efficiently edited and, at times, screamingly funny.

And it's about something real, human and important. Imagine that.

review by
Miles O'Dometer

3 November 2007

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