Kinky Boots (2006) 
Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Friday, 14 April 2006

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What’s a British shoe factory to do when sales are consistently down? The typical answer would be to close, but – as in the real-life situation that (one presumes loosely) inspired the film – another solution is to find an under-served niche and cater to it.

In “Kinky Boots,” Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) is happy not to be in the shoe business, although his father is proud to carry on the hundred-year-old family tradition at their Northampton factory. Then Charlie’s father dies and the factory is suddenly in Charlie’s hands. As bad as he is at managing the business, it turns out he’s even worse at laying off longtime employees because he can’t afford to keep them. Then, one night, Charlie tries to come to the rescue of a tall woman beset by three thugs. It’s Charlie who winds up being rescued, though, and the tall woman turns out to be Lola, nee Simon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a self-proclaimed “drag queen” (as Lola says the word “transvestite” conjures up images of Boris Yeltsin in a dress) who runs a London nightclub where s/he is the star attraction. Charlie, recovering in Lola’s dressing room after being knocked unconscious, has an epiphany. Here is an entire club full of men dressed as women – in women’s shoes which weren’t designed to bear men’s weight. What if someone expressly made women’s boots for men? Charlie gets the structure right, but the boots are far too practical-looking, so Lola – at first very warily – jumps in to help design sexier footwear. Everything is building to the big shoe show in Milan – but with the social tensions between some of the male factory workers and Lola, the relationship tensions between Charlie and his fiancée and Charlie’s pushing everyone way too hard, will they ever get there?

“Kinky Boots” is partly in the tradition of an old Ealing comedy (part of the film was indeed shot at Ealing Studios) and, more recently, “The Full Monty.” It’s money is where its mouth is in terms of supporting the working class and it serves as a handy demonstration of how tolerance is good not only for the soul but also for gainful employment. It also, of course, makes for very enjoyable moviegoing.

However, sweet and agreeable as most of “Kinky Boots” is, it soars into orbit every time the remarkable Ejiofor takes the screen. It’s not that the actor – or Lola, anyway – is a fantastic singer; vocally, the performance is merely okay. The presentation, however, knocks your boots off (and your socks underneath them). Ejiofor has a worldly kindness and infinite sense of fun in the role; unlike a lot of actors playing drag roles, this has a very lived-in feeling. Ejiofor plays Lola as someone who doesn’t expect to get taken for a woman – this is someone who has found a very particular way of existing that really works. The performance informs us how Lola gets by from day to day. And when Lola is onstage, belting out “Whatever Lola Wants” or “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” the confidence and joy are overwhelming.

Edgerton in the less showy role of Charlie does a very good job of playing a fellow who is understandably beleaguered, searching for his own backbone with both hands. Nick Frost, as an especially boorish factory worker, and Sarah-Jane Potts, as the plucky employee who first suggests to Charlie that he try and fight rather than caving in, stand out among the overall fine cast.

Sonically, “Kinky Boots” probably won’t be anybody’s first choice of a sound system demo disc when it hits home video, but the factory noises come across with authenticity, yet never overwhelm the dialogue. There’s a great song score, too – in addition to Ejiofor’s numbers, the soundtrack contains James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” and Nina Simone doing “Wild Is the Wind” and “I Put a Spell on You,” making for some fine atmospheric listening.

The movie is populated with a vast array of prehistoric animals, from the starring mammoth, sloth and saber-tooth cat, down to turtle-like glyptodons, one of whom comes to a sorrow (hollowed-out) end. Fast Tony (Jay Leno) the hustler has a few scenes, and for unclear reasons, vultures turn up frequently. In fact, at one point a huge flock of vultures does a version of “Glorious Food” from OLIVER!—though here the lyrics are suited to carrion-eaters. The eruption of this full-fledged musical number is as unexpected and surprising as the musical numbers that capped “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” This number isn’t as much fun, partly because our heroes are merely spectators, but it’s brassy and bold.

“Kinky Boots” is a bit timid in some ways – for all the talk of how the boots are meant to be sexy, neither Charlie nor Lola exhibits much drive in that regard – but it’s very funny, very likable and occasionally absolutely fabulous. Recommended.

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