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'Kinky Boots': Gender-Bending Working-Class Comedy

Directed by first-timer Julian Jarrold from a screenplay by Geoff Deane and Calendar Girls co-screenwriter Tim Firth, Kinky Boots is officially a fictional motion picture inspired by a true story. Even so, this dramatic comedy with a message owes more to several British film hits of the last century than to anything resembling real life. Shamelessly borrowing elements from The Full Monty, The Crying Game, and The Man in the White Suit (and, one might add, Funny Face), Kinky Boots greatest accomplishment is that it manages to be modestly entertaining despite its blatant derivativeness and its eagerness to offend as few audience members as possible.

The tale of a young man (Australian stage and TV actor Joel Edgerton) who tries to save his deceased father's failing shoe factory by making female boots for male cross-dressers (see synopsis), Kinky Boots starts promisingly. In its first half, the film offers some clever editing, quirky directorial touches, and two lead actors – Edgerton and Chiwetel Ejiofor – in good form. Once the plot gets in motion, however, predictability sets in, and the comic moments become few and far between.

The filmmakers pretend to be telling us something new and daring about tolerance while recycling the usual politically correct dictums in a manner that is palatable to mainstream audiences. For instance, Ejiofor's quick-witted cross-dresser, Lola – an asexual being, of course – earns the respect of the town bigot by showing him who's physically stronger (while heroically keeping mum about her prowess to the other locals). Now, had Lola been a physically weak man, would she have deserved any less respect from anyone?

At least the overdressed and overly made-up Lola gives Ejiofor a chance to display his remarkable talents as an actor. He camps it up with restraint – it sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn't – and never turns his cross-dresser into a caricature.

Though hardly a failure, Kinky Boots doesn't quite achieve its goal of having something daring (and funny) to say. In fact, for something truly daring, how about a movie that unapologetically shows us that hermaphrodites are (funny) people, too?

Kinky Boots (2005). Dir.: Julian Jarrold. Scr.: Geoff Deane and Tim Firth. Cast: Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts.

 

Synopsis:

Following the unexpected death of his father, the hapless Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) feels obligated to take over the family's business: a shoe factory located in the industrial town of Northhampton. Once there, Charlie discovers that the factory is in dire straits. Globalization has made the business uncompetitive.

To help the factory survive, Charlie thinks up a plan after meeting Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a London transvestite limping because of a broken heel: his factory could manufacture boots for that niche market. In spite of personal problems with his fiancée (Jemima Rooper), labor issues at the factory, and anti-gay/anti-transvestite prejudices, Charlie – with Lola's help – manages to create the right female boots for the right male market.

Then, it's off to the Milan Shoe Fair to discover if those sensuous boots will be accepted by the fashion establishment. But will Lola, now angry at Charlie's infantile prejudices, show up? And if she doesn't, who the hell will wear them boots on the catwalk?

 

Notes:

Part of Kinky Boots was shot at Northhampton's Trickers Shoe Factory, the real-life setting that inspired the filmmakers.

Steve Batemen, a young Englishman who inherited his family's failing 100-year-old Northamptonshire shoe factory, was the inspiration for Kinky Boots. He turned the business around by opting to manufacture boots for cross-dressers and fetishists.

Two of the Kinky Boots producers, Nick Barton and Suzanne Mackie, had previously tackled a similarly “outrageous” real-life story in their Calendar Girls (2003), a sort of distaff version of The Full Monty – the story of a group of small-town Englishwomen who raised money to help one of their friends by posing for a nude calendar.

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