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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 story.

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 man.

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 than laughs.

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