Directed By Peter Cattaneo
Starring – Kristin Scott Thomas, Sharon Horgan, Emma Lowndes
The Plot – Inspired by global phenomenon of military wives choirs, the story celebrates a band of misfit women who form a choir on a military base. As unexpected bonds of friendship flourish, music and laughter transform their lives, helping each other to overcome their fears for loved ones in combat.
Rated PG-13 for some strong adult language and sexual references
– Musical element. There’s plenty to praise here, as the combination of song selections and incorporation into the heat of the scene conjures up a naturalistic element to the storytelling that earns its believability, and doesn’t require fourth wall reality breaking like most musical genre films supplant. Songs like “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper, and “Shout” by Tears For Fears materialize when they are hitting on a subplot that is taking shape in the foreground of the characters, serving as a therapeutic response to all that each of them are going through. Beyond these two timeless classics, I also appreciated the lone original song for the film, that is created by the ladies choir with incorporating the words in letters home from their respective soldier husbands. Each of the words blend together seamlessly, and creates a ballad of sentimentality that brings forth the ladies’ most personal performance, and gives us a triumphant climax to the film that cements the length of their journeys.
– Team effort. While there are two main characters in particular to the focus of the film, I appreciated a screenplay that values everyone as equals, in that it takes valuable time to flesh out each of their key subplots to the integrity of the narrative. In this regard, it focuses on no less than seven different ladies through the first two acts of the movie, and illustrates many jaded dispositions not only from the characters featured in the film, but also in the real life circumstances surrounding many homeland heroes who are left to carry the reigns when their household heads leave home. As for performances, Thomas is easily the most definitive, exploring an arc that peels back many layers of anguish and grief within her, towards making her a good person. When the film began, I truly hated this character, but Kristin’s smooth and timely progression the more we learn about her brings forth a fluid transformation that opens her up, and allows us to grow with her in the same manner that the surrounding ladies are.
– Dramatic flare. Most of the film trails off with timely predictability, but the emergence of a conflict that erupts during the initial stages of the film’s third act is something that allowed it to get over the hump, and redeem the final thirty minutes of the film with the kind of hefty psychological stakes needed to reach the finish line. An argument takes shape between the two main characters, that while it does feel like the conventional third act break-up seen in most films, does feel effective because of the combination of stinging dialogue and frailty within the characters that makes this personal. This is also the most rewarding aspect of the script, if only because it forces the film’s central protagonist to attack her tortured past, and pays further into the character evolution that I was previously mentioning.
– Unique angle. Most films centering around war obviously focus solely on the perspective of the soldiers who are enveloped in a hostile environment that feels so far from their safety nets, but “Soldier Wives” takes advantage of an original side of this marital distancing by never leaving its primary setting. With the exception of “A League of Their Own”, a war-setting movie that doesn’t actually show the war itself never happens, but does grant us an opportunity at a completely different sacrifice taking place in the place we least expect it. Movies like these not only prove that women are fighting their own wars in keeping the household together, but also establishes that they are just as vulnerable as their counterparts when playing a lottery every day with bad news that feels inevitable. It proves that sacrifice is anything but one-sided, and persists over these women like the ghosts of their pasts, that constantly is reminding them of better times.
– Credible sound mixing. This is the only element of the faulty production that I commend, and one that I feel pays immensely into the authentication that so much of the film’s scenes maintain. The volume levels of the singing are preserved with the kind of patience that keeps it from ever taking over the scene or the capabilities of the women included, but beyond that it’s the commitment to keeping elements within the frame of the scene left in, so as to play against them in the heat of the performances. One such scene involves the ladies singing in the middle of a busy street, complete with horns and speedy traffic flying right by them, and while it takes away from our enjoyment of the song, it does prove believability in the performance, because of the way it uses outside elements to play into what we the audience are interpreting. This is certainly the easiest way to transcend lip-synching in films, and one that immerses us in the world surrounding our ladies, that they never let diminish their commitment to their newly-acquired hobby.
– Derivative. “Military Wives” is the mere definition of the term ‘By the numbers’, not only because it settles for a comfortable formulaic approach to its screenplay, but also because its redundancy in the story’s evolution grounds it from ever evolving with true potential. Everything that happened in the film was easily detectable from other, better movies that did it before this one, and the abundance of cliches that exist in this script prove how little interested the screenwriters were in diverting expectations. This element of predictability kept my interest at the bare minimum, and really stretched the idea that any of this warrants being seen on a big screen level, especially considering its mature subject matter keeps it tonally from ever reaching for any semblance of fun to sell its appeal.
– Technical spills. Where to begin here? For one, the color correction to the film is horrendously imbalanced, giving some scenes a dash of too much light that saturates the sentimentality of the some heartfelt scenes, as well as too much darkness in certain scenes involving enclosed exterior areas that make it difficult to focus on what and who are being depicted. In addition to this, some of the principal photography is an eyesore when the framing complicates what should be easily captured sequences. A couple such instances involve two characters having a conversation in the same frame, where one is perfectly captured while the other is deliberately cut-off at the head. If these amateur instances don’t prove the film’s limited appeal, the continuity error of a blackboard that continuously changes text between cuts certainly will. It’s obvious that this scene was shot through multiple takes, but the lack of attention to detail given to their integrity is unintentionally laughable, and creates too many obstacles for this story to overlap, despite the abundance of talent existing in its cast.
– Flailing humor. This intended comedy in the film not only fails, but it gasps for breath in between scenes that are dramatically humbling. In fact, I can commend a movie for trying to include some comical instances to lighten up the mood of its mature content, but what I can’t value is how strained these attempts feel when they’re called upon, especially considering there’s nothing written that is particularly clever or even remotely daring to appeal to an audience that isn’t perfectly typecast for a Lifetime Television capacity. The intention is a necessity, especially when so much of the screenplay is redundant, but if this is the best that the writers could come up with, I would rather endure the wet blanket that the other 95% o the film tonally exists on.
– Defeated purpose. It’s sad that so much of the honorable intention made apparent by the film’s first act to give attention to the supporting characters is left abandoned by the film’s halfway point, when complete lack of characterization results in problems with the film’s most gripping material. As seen particularly with a character who receives untimely and devastating news, the scene simply didn’t effect me in the way that was intended, and just comes across as a superficial moment in an ocean full of sentimental sap. I look at a film like “Pitch Perfect”, where even with limited focus, the film fleshes out the ladies personalities in ways that make the audience gleam with attention each time they’re on screen, yet here is established under the exact opposite circumstances, and yet still can’t appeal to making any of them feel even remotely intriguing to what’s taking shape. Even as I sit here writing this, I can only remember three of the ladies’ names.
– Safely played. One angle of creativity that I felt needed further developing to properly flesh out, was the impact that the Military Wives had on the global scale, that the ladies did dominate for a month on the real life charts. Because this is a film that is actually based on a true story, and not just one that uses those four words to garner audience attention, the factual basis for its story requires a responsible take in its rendering, if only for how far this once grounded project has taken them outside of their gated community. There is a scene or two that was shown on the trailers that are nowhere to be found in this film, and would’ve better given this film the sense of fictional transcendence that it required to link itself to the real life counterparts who invested so many of their sweat and tears to the basis of the story. Without it, the effect they had to uninformed patrons like me is minimal, and underwrites so many of the accomplishments that gave the ladies a sense of identity.
My Grade: 5/10 or D+