Military Wives (2019)
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
This film definitely starts with a radio news report, that probably provides contextual information about the remainder of the film, but I can't tell you. I missed it. I was too distracted by a fellow cinema patron who destroyed herself, tripping up the aisle staircase. My bad.
I can tell you, that this film isn't about military personnel, rather it is about the family members that they leave behind. More specifically it is about the wives of deployed military personnel, but I'm assuming you were already able to discern that much.
The first twenty minutes of this movie, are dedicated to exploring how different people cope, when their loved ones are deployed. We witness a whole host of emotions, from those who are sad, to those who are angry and even those who are every shade in between. We quickly learn one of the main purposes of the film: to raise awareness for the sacrifices made by the families of servicemen and women. This theme is continually referred to throughout the movie, as the military wives come to grips with: communications going down, solo parenting, injuries, death and even faulty wi-fi connections (which seems trivial, but when it's the first time you've seen a significant other in months, isn't). The sacrifices of these families are worthy of screen time, and certainly, had I not grown up in an army town, this film would have broadened my understanding of the difficulties faced by military families. This of course, though a central theme, isn't the main focus of the film.
In this movie (based on a true story), whilst military personnel are deployed, their wives organise weekly catch-ups to keep themselves distracted from the anxiety and worry that would otherwise overwhelm them. It seems to be an established expectation that the woman whose partner holds the highest rank, is responsible for taking charge of these ventures. Enter Lisa (Sharon Horgan), who isn't overly-enthusiastic about holding this illustrious position, but is willing to organise weekly coffee and wine (not together) with the other women and go with the flow. BUT THEN, ALSO ENTER KATE (Kristin Scott Thomas) who seemingly should be retired from such duties, but whose husband also ranks highly, (and whose son recently passed away) so inserts herself into a leadership position. But alas, she is not at all a "go with the flow" kind of gal. So, enter CONFLICT. Anyway, you see where this is going. They decide to start a choir/singing club (depending on whether you ask Lisa or Kate) and there is a definitive clash in their artistic visions. Kate wants to sing hyms. Lisa wants to sing pop/rock. Kate wants to use sheet music. Lisa wants to YOLO-sing. And so on, and so forth.
The purpose of the singing club/choir is of course, to distract the women. The way this film has been put together demonstrates this well. As the film goes on, the women become more invested in the singing club/choir and therefore less time is spent thinking of their partners overseas (and therefore less screen time dedicated to exploring this). Of course, once we venture further into the film, the singing club/choir becomes more of a hit (that one man on base even removes his noise-cancelling headphones) and they are invited to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. (Which made me excited, because the last time I witnessed someone perform at the Royal Albert Hall on film, it was the Spice Girls in Spiceworld: The Movie). At the point where this invitation is extended, we receive the line, "Maybe this choir isn't for us. Maybe it's for them to be heard". It's true, these women now have a large stage upon which to share their hardships with those who may not understand what they go through, time and again.
This film is listed as a drama and a comedy. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I think that is the right way for this true story to be communicated. However, I wasn't always on board with the style of comedy used. I really enjoyed the moments of every day life, that could be considered humorous. The moments where the characters find themselves in a situation that any audience member might, react in a way that any human might, and it is funny. Those are the best moments of the film. There are other moments however, when the characters of Kate and Lisa are heightened, to exemplify the differences between them and to create conflict. This is also done to create comedy. However, it isn't done consistently throughout the film. In some scenes they play their characters like it's a straight drama and in others, they are heightened significantly for comic effect. I found this unnecessary (and not particularly funny). The film would have been improved by a more consistent sense of humour.
Being a film about a singing club/choir, I wanted more music! There are a few songs that are sung from start to finish and a handful that are teased but never actually rehearsed. Then there are a number sung drunkenly at a karaoke bar, but that hardly counts! I wanted a complete soundtrack à la Sister Act. Although the songs that do appear are enjoyable, I was aching for more.
This isn't a bad film. It's very feel-good in the end. Additionally, it's based on a true story and it's a true story worth telling. The acting is great and the songs that are included are excellent. I just wanted a bit more. More consistency in humour. More songs. More nuanced communication of themes. It is a good film, but it isn't a great film.