Military Wives: Let It All Out, by David Bax
It would be difficult to make a pro-military movie about something as unpopular as the war in Afghanistan. Director Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and writers Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard know this, which is why Military Wives acknowledges the facts of the war–the opening scene includes Kristin Scott Thomas’ Kate listening to a radio broadcast detailing the death toll–and makes no excuses for it while focusing on unassailably sympathetic figures of any war, the spouses left at home who, as Sharon Horgan’s Lisa points out to a protestor, “don’t have the luxury” of being against the war because they’re “married to it.”
Military Wives is very loosely based on the real life “military wives choirs,” of which there are more than 75 from British military bases all over the world. Focusing on just one base, Cattaneo, Flynn and Tunnard depict the formation of a choir when Lisa–pushed into a leadership role she doesn’t want among the wives due to her husband’s promotion–needs to coordinate activities while the soldiers are on a six month tour of duty. She reluctantly teams up with Kate, a colonel’s wife. Kate’s belief in rules and traditions comes up against Lisa’s hard-drinking down-to-earthness, which only makes the latter woman more popular with the other wives. Eventually, Lisa, Kate and choir work through their differences (if you can imagine) and are asked to perform on a nationally televised benefit.
Lisa and Kate’s choir–and even their own families–are a diverse group in terms of race, age, body types and even sexual orientation, not so subtly representing for the strength and beauty of a multicultural Britain. Which is why it’s especially glaring that there are no military husbands in the choir. Though one servicewoman does ship out, it’s a wife she leaves behind.
Military Wives will probably find its most receptive audience among people in the roughly 35-50 age range (in other words, my age), due to the popular hits of the 80s that make up the ladies’ repertoire. It’s hard not to want to sing along with Tears for Fears’ “Shout” or Yazoo’s “Only You,” especially in the early scenes when the choir’s not that good yet and could use the help.
But viewers of any age will find common ground with the characters, Lisa and Kate especially. Thomas and Horgan, along with Flynn and Tunnard, give these women the respect of having specific traits that include flaws, like Kate’s tendency to judge or Lisa’s sometimes too hands-off parenting.
Military Wives has heartwarming moments of bonding, heartbreaking depictions of loss and more than a couple scenes perfectly calibrated to produce tears. But it ultimately succeeds for much the same reason The Full Monty did. This is simply a fun, funny group of Brits to hang out with.