In the now-familiar but still-unlabeled genre of “depressed northern England community finds salvation through embracing change,” Kinky Boots stands out for three reasons. One, it’s inspired by a true story. Two, it’s not only about what it really means to be a man, it’s also about the power of fabulousness. And finally, three, it has the formidable Chiwetel Ejiofor in glorious drag, singing! Prior to this film, I liked him well enough in the small things I had seen him do. Since seeing him in Kinky Boots (he’s in Children of Men), I got a thrill knowing he’ll be on my screen. As Lola, Ejiofor is gorgeous in and out of drag, and masculine in a cable sweater and jeans. When he’s in his show, he’s fierce and powerful and splashy. His role has surprising heart and depth as well. Co-lead Joel Edgerton as Charlie Price is as vanilla as Lola is spicy, as bland as Lola is flashy. Their yin and yang support the pleasures of the movie, since the foregone conclusion of the ending only serves to drag out the non-Lola scenes.
The short version of the premise is this: Stodgy, well-respected shoe manufacturer faces imminent demise thanks to the ever-present economic doldrums in twee Northhamptonshire. The factory will shut down if Price Shoes continues to embrace its tradition of predictable, high quality footwear. Enter drag queen and Price with big ideas, and that nice, quiet sort of uplifting comedy ensues. What makes this movie a little more special is of course Lola, and the ripple effect of her self-assuredness, glamour, and sex. Despite their little town closing shops, despite the factory suffering painful layoffs, when such a glorious new light dawns (Lola’s designs for the titular boots, with Price quality) the people still resist the scary influence of the city. Not all of them, of course, but their resistance is saddening in the face of their doom. The factory workers are hostile, the community intolerant, but Lola soldiers on.
Shaun of the Dead’s Nick Frost fleshes out the beefy-armed everyman with his factory worker, an aggressively phobic lummox. Of all the picturesque working me, Frost is the most vocal, but he is not the only obstacle the factory harbors within. Charlie Price is an ineffectual leader, thrust into management by birth and tradition, but not inclination. He’s sweet, devoted, and means well, and it’s a sign of his fervent desperation that he even teams up with Lola.
In between these serious matters of bigotry and birthright, despair and hope, Lola performs her act in her club in London. Now, now everyone is into the drag show scene, but this is the real McCoy, with real singing and dancing, design and showmanship, not just some old man in a dress lip-synching to Connie Francis. Ejiofor’s voice is rich and powerful, and he oozes a genderless sexuality that is a pleasure to swim through. Kinky Boots is his movie; Price Shoe’s problems and solutions are just the cost of seeing Lola shine.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/14/06
Time in minutes 106
Director Julian Jarrold
Studio Buena Vista/Miramax