Movie Review: Military Wives (2019)

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Starting and disbanding a knitting club on the very first night it meets after it becomes extremely clear that they can't knit, in the new film from director Peter Cattaneo, the military wives of the fictional British military base of Flitcroft realize they must look for another way to pass the time while their husbands and partners are overseas in Afghanistan.

Taking the suggestion of a young, newly married arrivee on the base to start a singing club, much like the straight-laced company colonel's wife Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lisa (Sharon Horgan), the sergeant major's wife and laid-back new chair of the base's social committee disagree about everything else, they greatly differ in their approach to the new activity.

Threatening to make the choir as short-lived as the knitting club, whereas Kate wants to teach the women to sing by formal numbered scale, Lisa knows that the quickest way to improve morale and ease the women's minds is to get them lost in the words of a beloved pop song. Eventually putting egos aside and finding a happy medium between the two wildly different styles, as the voices of their diverse choir of women from all backgrounds begins to meld together in a lovely harmony, Kate and Lisa begin to discover that they are more alike than they are dissimilar.

A pleasant if predictable trifle written by Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynn and now available on demand and for free on Hulu, the 2019 film is inspired by the formation of the very first military wives choir as well as the second one, which was chronicled in the popular British television series The Choir: Military Wives. Made with a clear market in mind, because that series struck such a chord with viewers that afterward, 75 choirs (serving 2,300 people) started to spring up on British military bases both in the U.K. and overseas, the film will undoubtedly appeal to members of the military and their families, regardless of the country for which they fight.

Constructed with the noblest of intentions, Wives benefits from its authentic surroundings and the research the screenwriters did in making sure they get the little details right when it comes to life on a military base. Yet as important as it is to pay tribute to the real sacrifices being made by the families of soldiers who don't receive nearly as much credit as they deserve for the vital role they play in serving their country, Military Wives is as bland as it is forgettable. Formulaic in terms of both its script development — which follows the three act structure to such an extent that you can almost set your watch by it — and when it comes to its prosaic characters, in the end, the reason Wives works as well as it does is thanks to its marvelous cast.

Giving the role of Kate more intriguing contradictions than can be found on the page, Kristin Scott Thomas is a master at thawing the edges of the specific brand of ice queen she frequently plays in order to shatter us in a wordless scene when she watches old home video footage of the son she'd lost on a previous military tour. Balancing out Kate and helping to give the film buoyancy when it needs it most, the lively, effortlessly funny Sharon Horgan spars very well with Scott Thomas and propels the movie forward towards the women's inevitable "big show" at the Royal Albert Hall.

Supremely skilled in the subgenre of dramedy, as evidenced throughout his filmography where his ensemble casts of characters frequently find themselves through the performing arts — from striptease in The Full Monty to theater in the underrated Lucky Break or music once again in his American crossover attempt The Rocker, director Peter Cattaneo's steady hand keeps everything afloat and makes the shallow work seem deeper than it actually is.

Still an altogether amiable picture, if you don't go in with the highest of expectations, a burning desire to really connect with the characters beyond the periphery, or the hope that you'll think about it much — if at all — when it's over, Military Wives plays very well as an adequate time waster made with assembly line efficiency.

Hitting all of the notes you'd expect it to, Wives follows the paradigm that's been practically sewn into our DNA thanks to generations of underdog stories made by the House of Mouse and others since their rise in the 1970s. And while it's great that military wives are being celebrated onscreen, in the end, Wives' narrative success is as short-lived as its filmic knitting club, which reaffirms my belief that the movie would've been better off as an original solo instead of a mere duet of everything else that came before it.

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