(Miramax) Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Nick Frost, Linda Bassett, Jemima Rooper, Robert Pugh, Ewan Hooper, Stephen Marcus, Mona Hammond, Kellie Bright, Joanna Scanlon, Geoffrey Streatfield, Leo Bill. Directed by Julian Jarrold
Sometimes our biggest problem is not knowing where we fit in the grand scheme of things. We flail around, trying to find answers but really, the answers are in ourselves for the most part. However, it is also true that life can simply be a process of finding one’s own niche and dwelling within it comfortably.
Charlie Price (Edgerton) doesn’t want his own niche. His father Harold (Pugh) is the owner of Prince and Sons, a Northamptonshire shoe factory that has been in the family for generations, and expects Charlie to pick up on his passion for quality men’s footwear. Charlie, however, would much rather move to London with his sophisticated fiancée Nicola (Rooper) – in fact, the two of them are moving into a gorgeous flat that’s not too expensive, but not too far from it either. Life is going exactly the way Charlie wants it to.
Then his father dies and Charlie must return to Northampton and take over the factory. The workers, who have known Charlie ever since childhood, are leery. After all, he has essentially rejected a way of life that they have known all their lives and takes over the business without knowing all that much about it. The bullheaded, opinionated Don (Frost) expresses what the workers are feeling.
As the days go by, Charlie finds to his horror that the business that he thought was strong and stable was anything but. People don’t look for quality shoes that last a lifetime; retailers want shoes that will force customers to come back over and over again to replace them, and the population is buying things from Nike and Reebok in any case. When he is unable to get a big sale from one of their biggest clients, Charlie is forced to lay off some of his workers, including the loud and brash Lauren (Potts), who chides him for not doing anything to save her job or even finding a new niche for the company.
Depressed and not supported by his fiancée in any way whatsoever, Charlie goes to a bar to get drunk. Staggering home, he witnesses what appear to be several rough men molesting a beautiful black woman in a back alley. Charlie’s attempts at intervening, however, are ill-advised at best and he winds up unconscious and the thugs flee thinking they might have killed him. The woman, however, turns out to be a man dressed as a woman, a highly-regarded female impersonator known as Lola (Ejiofor) who has a show in London. When she remarks after breaking a heel that it’s a shame that there aren’t any sexy boots of women’s style created for a man’s weight, Charlie is struck by brilliant inspiration; there are an awful lot of transgenders, cross-dressers and drag queens out there and they are a market not being served by anyone. Price and Sons could create their own market – a new niche. He recruits Lauren for the scheme and together they pitch Lola to be their designer. After some reluctance, Lola agrees.
However, there are some obstacles. First of all, the working class of Northampton isn’t quite ready for the flamboyant Lola, who tones down her act at Charlie’s urging, but even then, she is not taken to by the workers, especially Don. The financial situation for Price and Sons is dire, and Charlie needs to have samples ready for the Milan Shoe Fair, where prospective buyers would be gathering, in just a matter of weeks. On top of that, Nicola is getting antsy and wants Charlie to walk away from what she senses is impending disaster. Charlie is getting pressured from all sides, and he begins to take it out on those around him. Can he beat the odds?
This is, incredibly enough, loosely based on actual events. The very real Kinky Boots Company served as inspiration for the movie, and quite frankly, I didn’t expect it to be as charming and as heart-warming as it was. Director Jarrold and his cinematographer Eigil Bryld have a nice eye for the dreary industrial landscapes of Northampton, the sophisticated swinging hangouts of London and the classical fashion capital of Milan.
He also cast Lola brilliantly. Ejiofor delivers the kind of performance that I would consider Oscar-worthy if it only had occurred in a movie being released in the latter part of the year. He is brassy, ballsy and charming, with just enough self-doubt to make him human. He also has a surprisingly good singing voice, which he uses to good effect during the musical numbers.
There is a clear message for tolerance, but the filmmakers aren’t preachy about it. They prefer to force the audience to come up with their own ideas of what being a man is all about, and in fact, they seem to say, there is certainly room for more than one picture of what real manhood is. You may not come out of the movie ready to march in the next Gay Pride parade, but you will come out of the movie entertained.
WHY RENT THIS: Ejiofor’s performance is brilliant. The movie is charming and unexpectedly heart-warming. Well-photographed with an eye for the dreary industrial landscapes of Northampton and the glitz and glamour of London and Milan.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Edgerton, a fine actor, is overwhelmed by the flamboyant Ejiofor.
FAMILY VALUES: The thematic material might be a little difficult for some, and there is plenty of salty language to go around.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Jarrold is descended from the founders of England’s Jarrold’s Department store, which was founded in 1770.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a look at the actual factory that inspired the movie, and a short but fascinating look at all the steps that go into the making of a single shoe.
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: The Messenger