Kinky Boots

kinky boots

There was a brief golden period for the modern British romantic comedy starting around 1994 with the sleeper hit Four Weddings and a Funeral, but by the time the second installment of Bridget Jones’s Diary hit the cinemas a decade later, things had begun to peter out. Kinky Boots, released in 2005, just misses the boat then, but that doesn’t stop it from trying to coast by on the Richard Curtis formula.

The film works hard to assemble the right parts – some drama, a little more comedy, and a touch of social commentary. Kind of like a piece of IKEA furniture though, it never really comes together, failing even to deliver a fraction of the kinkiness it promises. Charlie Price, the down on his luck protagonist, is pretty bland as far as an underdog hero goes and doesn’t fare much better as a charming love interest. Australian Joel Edgerton has an affable everyman quality and throws in some of inarticulate self-doubt we’ve come to expect from our British romantic leads, but he has a hard time distinguishing himself from the drab East Midlands landscape. Save Charlie’s determination to rescue his father’s shoe business, there’s little else that animates his character and keeps him from fading into the background.

Which is why the film relies on drag queen Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to perk things up. The two literally run into each other, and Lola’s offhanded complaint about her broken shoe inspires Charlie to design heels that can withstand the weight of a man. Since selling sturdy Oxfords just doesn’t take you very far these days, Charlie hopes to expand his business by marketing his new line of footwear to drag queens and the transgendered community. Lola eventually signs on as an advisor, which sends shockwaves through the company.

It’s easy to say that she’s the heart of the film, and Ejiofor thunders onto the screen with a performance that is eye-catching in more ways than one. Not only does Lola try to revive the factory, she changes the conservative attitudes of a few workers, notably the gruff arm-wrestling champ Don (Nick Frost), who prides himself on being a Real Man. She also befriends Lauren (Sarah-Jane Potts), a fired worker who sticks by her ex-boss. Unlike Charlie, Lola quickly catches on that since Lauren is a bit of a tomboy and doesn’t mind living Northampton, she’s a far better match for Charlie than his fiancée (Jemima Rooper).

But while the character prompts much of the action in the story, her personal life is mostly left to the margins. There are hints of her past, and the movie opens with little Simon/Lola donning a pair of fabulous heels before his father bellows at him to take the damned things off. Ejiofor also allows his character a few pensive glances in the mirror before downing a shot of vodka. But in the tradition of the magical Negro, Lola is really just a flashy black drag queen there to help the struggling white folks become their better selves. The primary dilemma is Charlie versus changing economic times. It’s noble and heartwarming, but it’s just not that exciting here, and it’s certainly not kinky.

Spoilers: This scene is from the end of the movie, but damn, is there anything that Chiwetel Ejiofor can’t do?

Released: 2005
Prod: Suzanne Mackie, Nick Barton, Peter Ettedgui, Mairi Brett
Dir: Julian Jarrold
Writer: Geoff Deane, Tim Firth
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah Jane Potts, Jemima Rooper, Nick Frost, Linda Bassett, Robert Pugh, Ewan Hooper
Time: 106 min
Lang: English
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2015

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