Kinky Boots (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Shot in 8 weeks on a budget
of $10 million, “Kinky Boots” is an old fashioned movie about a modern
subject. “Kinky Boots” was inspired by Englishman Steve Bateman, who
inherited his family’s 100 year-old shoe company. In order to save it
from failure he converted from making traditional loafers to turning out
flashy, funky, thigh-high PVC leather boots for fetishists,
transvestites and other lovers of outrageous male footwear. The big
gamble transformed the little working-class factory into an overnight,
out-of-the-blue, edge-of-the-fashion-world success.
In director Julian Jarrold’s
telling, Charlie (Joel Edgerton) inherits a Northampton shoe factory
from his father. Even though it’s been in business for a century, it has
fallen on hard times.
Charlie has to come back to
Northampton, still the shoe-making capital of England, to the
consternation of his fiancée, Nicola (Jemima Rooper). Things are not
good when he comes to the aid of Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is being
beaten up in an alley, resulting in Charlie being beaten up himself.
Lola is a transvestite and she takes him to his club where he discovers
that there is a need for women’s shoes made for men. Charlie thinks this
might be the factory’s salvation, so he brings Lola to Northampton to
help design shoes in time for the Milan Shoe Fair.
Brilliantly directed by first
timer Jarrold from a script of unusual depth by Tim Firth and Geoff
Deane, essential to the film is the casting of Lola. Ejiofor was only
one of the people considered for the role. He said that he showed up for
the audition in the gear he would have to wear for the role. He was the
only person to do so, much to his surprise, and he got the part.
Although Ejiofor is black, race has nothing to do with the part or the
Ejiofor gives a remarkable,
Oscar-nomination worthy, performance. According to him, just learning to
walk on women’s shoes with 4-inch stiletto heels was an “epic journey.”
He says, “I thought I could put them on and walk around for a few hours
to get comfortable and would be ready to go.” Wrong. “It wasn’t nearly
that easy. I had to get them and walk around my apartment every day. I
had a regime and finally got used to it over a period of time.” On top
of his convincing performance as a transvestite, he performs several
songs using his own voice. And what a voice it is! This is one talented
Edgerton gives an equally
good performance in what is probably a more difficult role. Because
Ejiofor’s role as Lola is so over-the-top, he had no restraints on how
outrageous he could be. Edgerton’s role, however, requires the talent to
be a normal person who is facing tremendous adversity and to translate
that comedically, all the while conveying the humanity and sensitivity
that raise this film above the ordinary.
While this is a heartwarming
story about struggle and success, the basic premise is one of personal
change. The beauty of this film is that while every major character is
changed by the other characters, each change is based on integrity and
respect for others. There is nobody who is changed for the worse. Even
Nicola, the most selfish character, learns how to be true to herself,
although it may seem that what she does is not admirable.
Don (Nick Frost) is the only
apparent heavy in the film. A macho man who is an arm wrestling champion
at the local pub, he feels threatened by Lola and skeptical of Charlie’s
plan to save the factory. He is changed by both Lola and Charlie.
Although this is presented as
a comedy, Ejiofor said he was surprised when he heard people laughing
because he didn’t view it as a comedy. While it does have its light
moments and it goes easy on the heaviness, the film has a lot more to it
Authenticity is enhanced by
the location of the film at the175 year-old Trickers Shoe Factory in
Northampton. Making it even more realistic, half the Trickers’ workforce
volunteered to be extras.
There is no nudity, no crude
language, no New Hollywood paean to low morals and doing your own thing
to maximize your pleasure to the detriment of everyone else. Ejiofor got
it right; although the film is light hearted and humorous, it is much
more than comedy. In the end, this is an entertaining film extolling
high personal values.
April 4, 2006