Review: Kinky Boots

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Whether it’s the topless ladies of Calendar Girls, the bottomless boys of The Full Monty, or the totally naked showgirls of Mrs. Henderson Presents, the British seem to have a knack for taking a sordid story with a naughty theme and turning it into a flamboyant, feel-good feature film that’s fun for the whole family. Such is the case with Kinky Boots, a heartwarming tale about the unlikely friendship forged between a black drag queen and the recently-engaged heir of a shoe factory.

Joel Edgerton stars as Charlie Price, a man reluctant to assume the reins of the business in the wake of his father’s unexpected passing, primarily because he has just moved to London and he’d prefer to not return to the relatively provincial town of Northampton. Initially, he considers caving in to his impatient fiancée’s (Jemima Looper) suggestion that they sell the factory, despite feeling duty bound because it has been in the family for generations.

Then, when he examines the books, he learns that the company is in the red. With a wave of layoffs and possibly bankruptcy on the horizon, Charlie refuses to abandon his loyal, long-time employees out of a sense of noblesse oblige. Finding an overabundance of stodgy wing-tips gathering dust in the overcrowded storeroom, he snap-diagnoses the problem to be a failure to change with the times.

So, the obvious answer to these financial woes rests with offering a trendier line of footwear. But first, he has to hire a designer and figure out what segment of the market he wants to target. The answer to both questions arrives the night he comes to the assistance of Lola, the victim of a hate crime at the hands of a gang of homophobic hoodlums. Grateful Lola, it turns out, is the headliner at a Soho cabaret which just happens to be frequented by a gaggle of gender-benders who are having a hard time finding glamorous high heels that can support a man’s weight. Fortunately, this unmet demand conveniently dovetails with Charlie’s supply-side shoe-onomics.

Though transparent subplots abound in this well-crafted comedy, the real reason this movie is highly recommended is because of the radiant performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola. Chewy not only exhibits an impressive emotional range, but pulls off wearing a wig, falsies and women’s clothes with perfect aplomb. In addition he quite capably handles all of his own singing, too.

Comedian Dave Chappelle recently complained on Oprah that there comes a point in every black actor’s career when he’s asked to put on a dress. Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and even Wesley Snipes have all done it. And already this year, we’ve seen Martin Lawrence Tyler Perry reprise their roles as Big Momma and Madea, respectively. Such effeminate roles may mark the low point in the career of many a thespian, but not Mr. Ejiofor who is at his very best, here, as if he were born to play a transvestite.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and mature themes.
Running time: 107 minutes
Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

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