The Brits have exported a number of delightfully quirky comedies to America, and Buena Vista Home Entertainment has distributed a new one through their Miramax company. "Kinky Boots" follows in the footsteps of naughty-but-sweet films like "The Full Monty" and "Calendar Girls" that follow the extraordinary and risqué actions taken by rather ordinary people to turn their lives around. This film may be a little less naughty than the previous two, but it is nonetheless a cute, feel-good story with some fabulous footwear.
The Price & Sons Shoe Company in Northampton has passed through three generations of the Price family before falling into the shaky hands of Charlie (Joel Edgerton), a regular bloke who couldn't be any less interested in or prepared for a manager's position. Known for their exquisite production of sensible men's footwear, Price & Sons is falling under growing competition, giving Charlie little choice except to lay off his struggling employees and close the factory. His eyes are quickly pried open by Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts), a spunky employee who convinces him that the right thing to do is to look for a new niche market.
That niche turns out to be the colorful, outrageous world of transvestism, represented most spectacularly in the person of Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A nightclub performer extraordinaire, Lola is a brawny drag queen who carries herself well in a pair of spike heels despite the pain and lack of orthopedic support. After saving Lola from a gang of street thugs, Charlie has the novel idea to produce a line of sexy boots especially for transvestites. You know, strong enough for a man, but made for a man in drag. The idea does not go over well with the factory workers, and it takes a little coaxing from Lola as only she knows how to change their minds.
Believe it or not, the film actually tells the true (though highly romanticized) story of a real shoe factory in England. The kinky boots produced by the company are memorably described as "two-and-a-half feet of irresistible, tubular sex." They are also the closest thing to sex you will see in the entire movie. For a film about transvestites and fetishistic shoes, it is remarkable how relatively bland it all is. Director Julian Jarrold injects absolutely no personality into the proceedings. The factory setting and workers exude little depth or flair, and the script never even approaches the edges of decency, let alone oversteps them.
What "Kinky Boots" has going for it is a terrific performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola, who serves as the emotional heart of the film. He brings so much humanity and tenderness to a character that could so easily have been a cartoon that everyone else is dwarfed around him. He also sashays across the screen with enough attitude and verve to make it look as if he has been doing it all his life. Unlike the rest of the cast, Ejiofor overcomes the inherent clichés of his role to create a real person the audience can care about.
In the end, it's just such a good-natured movie that you can't help but embrace it. There is nothing here that we haven't seen before, but it has a sweetness that makes it hard to dislike. It straddles the line between comedy and drama with sufficient success to make the predictable story involving. The soundtrack is packed with upbeat tunes and eye-popping drag performances that also add to its enjoyment.
Miramax has given the film a very nice presentation on DVD, starting off with a sparkling 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer. The image is sharp and crisp, with only the slightest edge enhancement in a few places. Colors are alive and organic, most notably during the drag scenes. Deep, rich blacks and excellent contrast are consistent throughout. Occasionally, the picture looks a little murky and dark, but I assume this is largely intentional. Some good, filmic grain is visible, which for me is not a problem at all, contributing to an overall pleasing video treatment.
Audio is served well by a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track, remaining mostly low key but blasting out during the musical numbers. Dialogue comes through naturally, with ambience nicely integrated and spread around the channels for a good surround experience. The music stands out boldly, pumping through the speakers to create a lively atmosphere. An alternate French track is included, as well as French and Spanish subtitles.
An audio commentary with the director and cast members Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Sarah-Jane Potts provides a relaxing conversation about the film. The three are great fun to listen to, and they give us lots of interesting tidbits about the making of "Kinky Boots."
Speaking of which, the 15-minute featurette, "The Real Kinky Boots Factory," gives us a brief overview of the actual factory that inspired the movie as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the film. Another short featurette, "Journey of a Brogue," is a cleverly edited sequence that follows a shoe from its factory inception to its completion.
There are also four deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Jarrold.
In spite of the fact that "Kinky Boots" boldly goes where lots of films have gone before, it is still an enjoyable romp with glam and sweetness to spare. It's the kind of movie that has little to say but that you like to have on the shelf to pull out for a rainy day. Chiwetel Ejiofor compensates greatly for the film's shortcomings and proves himself an actor to watch for in the bargain. Strap on your fishnets and stilettos, don't go in expecting too much, and kick back for some playfully kinky entertainment.