Those looking for a pick-me-up of the whimsical British variety may get some of what they’re looking for in Military Wives. The sing-a-long dramedy is based on the true story of English wives of servicemen who came together to form a choir, and even scored an unexpected hit single in the U.K. The film follows in a very long tradition of similar Brit underdog stories centered on women, my personal favorite of the bunch being Calendar Girls, and like so many of those it’s light on detail but heavy on moxie and feel-good charm from some of the best actresses our neighbors from across the pond have to offer.
Just don’t expect a complete romp out of this one. There’s a tinge of sorrow in the stories of these women, left at home on military base while their spouses battle abroad. To pass the time, they engage in group activities, led by Kate (the always-terrific Kristin Scott Thomas), the grieving wife of the ranking officer. He’s still alive but shipped off again, however they have a son who was lost in combat. In true Scott Thomas fashion, Kate is the ice queen none of the other women seem to like. She’s matched by the more outgoing Lisa (Sharon Horgan), who is put in charge of the singing group they’ve decided on a whim to start. The two couldn’t be more different and polite British bickering is about all they’re good for when in the same room. Tea will be had.
The shadow of The Full Monty looms over Military Wives, not through any fault of the actresses but due to the presence of director Pete Cattaneo. He took that unlikely comedy about a group of blue collar dudes-turned-strippers and made it a global sensation, earning Oscar nominations (and one victory) in the process. Military Wives isn’t nearly as upbeat and sharp as that. It only skims the surface of the lives of these women before diving head first into their quest to find harmony. Each of them is dealing with some personal hardship caused by the absence of their loved one, but it always feels as if we are being rushed through that to get to the next ’80s pop jam. That said, their melancholic rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” does give the warm fuzzies. So too a grande finale of Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” featuring a montage of the real-life military wives choirs.
As is often the case, Scott Thomas is called upon to carry much of the dramatic weight. Once again her character is cold and borderline unlikable, until the others truly get to know her, of course. At that point, Kate opens up and let’s her hair down, so to speak, grooving to the music with the rest of them. She won’t do karaoke, though. None of that for her. Military Wives would be much less of a movie without her. As it is, there’s enough here to make it worth a watch on Hulu, where it’ll arrive this weekend alongside a digital release, but the material is too subdued to demand an encore.