Review: ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,’ starring Nicolas Cage

April 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pedro Pascal and Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Photo by Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate)

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”

Directed by Tom Gormican

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Los Angeles and Mallorca, Spain, the action comedy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” features a cast of white and Latino characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Desperate for money, famous actor Nick Cage agrees to a $1 million fee to appear at a wealthy superfan’s birthday party in Mallorca, where he reluctantly gets in the middle of an international espionage case. 

Culture Audience: “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” will appeal primarily to fans of star Nicolas Cage and comedies that are satires of real people.

Nicolas Cage, Lily Sheen and Sharon Horgan in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Photo by Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate)

It’s not the comedy masterpiece that some people have been hyping it up to be, but “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has plenty of hilarious moments in spoofing Nicolas Cage’s public persona and action films. The movie has some genuinely inspired scenes before the film’s last 20 minutes devolve into stereotypical formulas seen in many other comedic spy capers. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is also an above-average buddy comedy, with touches of family sentimentality to balance out some of the wackiness.

Tom Gormican directed “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Kevin Etten. It’s Gormican’s second feature film, after he made his feature-film directorial debut with the forgettable 2014 male-friendship comedy “That Awkward Moment.” Gormican’s background is mainly as a TV writer/producer, with credits that include “Scrubs,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Ed.” At times, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” veers into stale TV sitcom territory, but the movie has enough originality and charm to rise above its repetitive clichés. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Cage has said in interviews that he initially rejected the idea of doing this movie. It’s a good thing that he changed his mind, because “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is easily one of the funniest comedy films that Cage has done in decades. In the movie, he plays two versions of himself: (1) main character Nick Cage, a present-day version of himself, and (2) Nicky Cage, a younger, brasher version of Cage, circa the late 1980s/early 1990s. (According to the movie’s production notes, Nicky’s physical appearance was inspired by how the real Cage looked in his 1990 movie “Wild at Heart.”)

Nicky has de-aging visual effects for his face, and he appears to Nick as a figment of Nick’s imagination, in moments when Nick is feeling insecure. Nicky’s blunt and sometimes crude conversations with Nick (which are either pep talks, insults or both) are among the more memorable parts of the movie. Nicky has a habit of yelling out “I’m Nick fucking Cage!,” in an elongated way, as if he’s a WWE announcer yelling, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” before a wrestling match. In the film’s end credits, the actor listed as portraying Nicky is Nicolas Kim Coppola, which is a cheeky nod to Cage’s birth surname Coppola. (Numerous movie fans already know that Cage is part of the famous Coppola movie family.)

In the beginning of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Nick is a world-famous actor in Los Angeles, but he’s currently not getting the acting roles that he wants. Nick has been struggling with being labeled a “has-been” who’s been doing a lot of low-budget, low-quality movies in recent years. (Real-life filmmaker David Gordon Green has a cameo as himself in an early scene in the movie where Nick tries to impress him with an impromptu monologue reading.)

When Nicky shows up and talks to Nick, it’s usually to remind Nick that his younger self would never have stooped to the level of the type of work that Nick is doing now. In one of the movie’s early scenes, Nicky is lecturing Nick about it during a drive in Nick’s car, with Nick driving. A defensive Nick snaps back: “Hello! It’s my job! It’s how I pay my bills. I have to feed my family.” Nick ends the conversation by telling Nicky, “You’re annoying!” And then Nick kicks Nicky out of the car.

Nick’s fast-talking agent Richard Fink (played by Neil Patrick Harris, in a cameo role) tells Nick about a job offer from a Nick Cage superfan in Mallorca, Spain. This wealthy fan wants to pay Nick $1 million to make a personal appearance at the fan’s birthday party. Nick says no to the idea, because he thinks that these types of personal appearances are beneath him as a “serious actor.”

However, because Nick gets rejected for a movie role that he had been counting on getting, and because he has high-priced divorce payments and other bills, a financially desperate Nick agrees to the birthday party job offer. Nick makes it clear to Richard that this personal appearance better not include anything involving kinky sex. Nick has no idea that what he thinks will be an easy gig will turn out to be a life-threatening, mind-bending experience for him and other people.

Nick isn’t just having problems in his career. His personal life is also messy. Nick has a tension-filled relationship with his ex-wife Olivia (played by Sharon Horgan), a former makeup artist whom he met on the set of his 2001 movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” It’s revealed in “The Unbearable Wright of Massive Talent” that one of the main reasons why they divorced was because Olivia thought that Nick put his career above everything else in his life.

Nick and Olivia have a daughter named Addy (played by Lily Sheen), who’s about 15 or 16 years old. Addy is usually annoyed with Nick because she thinks he forces her to do things (such as watch movies) that are according to what he wants to do and his personal tastes, without taking into consideration Addy’s own personal wants and needs. For example, Nick has insisted that Addy watch the 1920 horror film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” even though Addy has no interest in seeing this movie.

Addy also thinks Nick has been a neglectful father for most of her life. That’s why Nick and Addy are in therapy together. But as an example of Nick’s self-centered ways, a therapy session that’s shown in the movie reveals that Nick spends most of the time talking about himself, while Addy sulks in a corner on a couch. Their therapist named Cheryl (played by Joanna Bobin) has to listen to Nick ramble on about his career problems, while she tries to steer the conversation back to how to improve his personal relationships.

Nick is so financially broke, he doesn’t have a permanent home, and he’s living at a hotel. When he gets locked out of his hotel room due to non-payment, he calls his agent Richard to tell him that he’s taking the birthday party job. A self-pitying Nick also tells Richard that he’s going to quit being an actor. On his way to Mallorca, Nick has no idea that he’s gotten on the radar of the CIA, which has been tracking the activities of the fan who has hired Nick to be at the fan’s birthday party. The CIA has this superfan under investigation for being the leader of a ruthless international arms cartel.

Two CIA operatives who have been assigned to the case are named Vivian (played by Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (played by Ike Barinholtz), who are surprised and confused when they see Nick disembarking from the private plane that the superfan has chartered for this trip. Vivian, who has a take-charge and quick-thinking personality, immediately pretends to be an adoring Nick Cage fan, and stops him at the airport to take a selfie photo with him. It’s really a ruse to plant a tracking device on Nick. Vivian and Martin are generic and underwritten roles, so Haddish and Barinholtz don’t do much that’s noteworthy in the movie.

In Mallorca, Nick is taken to a lavish cliffside mansion, where he is greeted by several employees of this rich superfan, who is described as a mogul in the olive grove business. The fan’s name is Javi Gutierrez (played by Pasco Pascal), and he is so unassuming on first impression, Nick initially mistakes Javi for one of the servants, because Javi was the one who drove Nick to this mansion by speedboat. The two people in Javi’s inner circle who are the closest to him are his cousin/right-hand man Lucas Gutierrez (played by Paco León) and a savvy business person named Gabriela (played by Alessandra Mastronardi), nicknamed Gabi, who is Javi’s director of operations.

Nick soon finds out that Javi didn’t just invite him to make an appearance at Javi’s birthday party. Javi has written a movie screenplay, and he wants Nick to star in this movie. Javi is crushed when Nick tells him that he’s going to quit acting, so Javi desperately tries to get Nick to change his mind One of the running gags in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is how Nick reacts to Javi’s attempts to befriend Nick and get Nick to read his script. It should come as no surprise that Javi makes revisions to the screenplay, based on a lot of the shenanigans that he experiences with Nick.

As shown in the movie’s trailer, Vivian and Martin recruit/pressure Nick to spy on Javi for the CIA. Meanwhile, things get more complicated with the kidnapping of Maria Delgado (played by Katrin Vankova), a teenage daughter of a politician who’s running for a high office in Spain. There are entanglements with a thug named Carlos (played by Jacob Scipio) and a group called the Carabello crime family. And it should come as no surprise that Addy and Olivia somehow get mixed up in this mess too.

Along the way, there’s some drug-fueled comedy that’s intended to make the most of Cage’s slapstick skills. First, Nick accidentally drugs himself with a potentially lethal dose of gaseous poison. Later, Nick and Javi take LSD together and have a bonding experience where they go through various levels of elation and paranoia.

Nick and Javi’s budding friendship is at the heart of the movie. However, there are also some standout moments involving Nicky, Olivia and Addy and how their relationships to Nick end up evolving. (Nicky spontaneously does something outrageous, when he kisses Nick, in a scene that will have viewers either shocked, roaring with laughter or both.)

Pascal is pitch-perfect in his role as Javi, who might or might not be the movie’s biggest villain. When secrets are revealed, they’re not too surprising, but one of the best things about “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is that it doesn’t make Javi into a meaningless caricature. Even though Cage is the larger-than-life central character in the movie, Pascal holds his own and can be considered a scene-stealer.

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has the expected stream of jokes about previous real-life movies of Cage. Among those that get name-checked or parodied include “Con Air,” “Face/Off,” “Moonstruck,” “Valley Girl,” “The Croods: A New Age,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “The Rock,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “National Treasure” and “Guarding Tess.” Also in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a recurring joke about the animated film “Paddington 2” (which is not one of Cage’s movies) and how this family film sequel about a talking bear affects certain people who watch it.

Cage is a versatile actor who tackles his role in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” with gusto. (He’s also one of the movie’s producers.) Cage makes this movie work so well because he’s fully on board with laughing at himself. Not too many well-known actors would risk doing a movie where they have to poke fun at their triumphs and failures, but it’s precisely this risk-taking that has made Cage one of the most interesting and unpredictable actors of his generation. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” does indeed have massive talent, but this talent helps the movie soar instead of sink.

Lionsgate will release “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” in U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Together’ (2021), starring James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan

August 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan in “Together” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Bleecker Street)

“Together” (2021) 

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Culture Representation: Taking place from March 2020 to March 2021, in an unnamed city in the United Kingdom, the comedy/drama “Together” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An unmarried couple, who are opposites in many ways, confront issues in their love/hate relationship when they have to quarantine together during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Culture Audience: “Together” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted movies about love relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharon Horgan and James McAvoy in “Together” (Photo by Peter Mountain/Bleecker Street)

The comedy/drama “Together” is a very talkative relationship movie that could easily have been a stage play because the entire story takes place at one house. The movie’s appeal is largely dependent on the talent of co-stars James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan. They are two of the movie’s three cast members who speak. McAvoy and Horgan also have about 99% of the screen time and speaking lines in the movie. And much of it consists of conversations and monologues that are funny, rude, angry and sometimes poignant.

Fortunately, McAvoy and Horgan succeed in making their very flawed characters sizzle with a wide range of emotions that are realistic for a troubled couple navigating their way through a quarantine together during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Together” (directed by Stephen Daldry and written Dennis Kelly) takes place from March 24, 2020, to March 22, 2021, in an unnamed city in the United Kingdom. By the end of the movie, the unnamed, unmarried couple portrayed by McAvoy and Horgan have a reckoning about where their relationship is headed, and they decide if they are going to stay together or not.

The couple at the center of the story are only identified as He and She in the film’s credits. They are both opposites in many ways. He is a businessman who used to be a high-ranking corporate executive and has started his own tech consulting business that is failing when this story begins. He’s politically conservative and hates the idea of government welfare because he thinks people on welfare are lazy. He has a very arrogant and condescending view of people who are working-class and poor, even though he comes from a working-class background in Scotland.

She’s from England and politically liberal—someone whom a conservative would call a “bleeding heart” liberal, although she likes to think of herself as a moderate liberal. She comes from an upper-middle-class background (her late father was a dentist), and she believes that the government and society in general should do more to help poor and disenfranchised people. It’s why she works as a refugee coordinator.

This often-bickering couple has a son together named Arthur, nicknamed Artie (played by Samuel Logan), who’s about 11 or 12 years old. Artie stays in the background for most of the movie. Artie also doesn’t speak until the last third of the film, when the quarantine lockdown has lifted and the COVID-19 vaccination has become available. This family trio lives in a cluttered, upper-middle-class two-story house.

There are two scenes where Artie is briefly shown on a backyard trampoline. The movie quickly shows only person outside of the household: a boy who’s around the same age as Artie and who lives next door. This unnamed boy doesn’t speak in the movie, but he also has a backyard trampoline that he’s seen jumping on at the same time as Artie. Viewers will get the impression that even without a quarantine, Artie is a loner anyway because he and his parents never mention Artie not being able to hang out with any friends during the lockdown.

The beginning of “Together” doesn’t waste time in showing the volatile relationship between these on-again/off-again lovers. It’s the first day of the quarantine lockdown, and they’ve just come back from stocking up on food from a grocery store, where a lot of panic buying was going on. This argumentative couple—who talk to the camera, as if they’re filming video diaries for an audience—can’t even agree on the name their son should be called. He thinks their son should be called Artie, while she prefers Arthur.

He says to the camera, “The only thing keeping us together is our child.” He then says to her about how during quarantine, he’ll miss the routine of leaving the house. “Just saying goodbye to you [to go to work] is the best part of my day!” She snaps back and says to the camera, “Just being in the same room as him is like a sadness and a soul stink both mixed together.”

The insults don’t end there. He says to her, “I hate your face.” She replies, “When I look at you, I get the exact same feeling as my dead dad’s cancer.” They both trade these types of verbal barbs while looking at each other or acting as if the other person isn’t there and talking directly to the camera.

How did these two miserable people end up together? They tell their “love story” in bits and pieces, during their conversations and monologues. Like many romances that turn sour, things started out wonderfully. They had an “opposites attract” relationship where their differences seemed charming to each other in the beginning. And they definitely fell in love.

However, even early on in their relationship, they disagreed and argued over fundamental things. A turning point in their courtship happened when a hipster friend of theirs named Nathan convinced the couple to go on a New Age type of rustic retreat with Nathan and some other people. During this retreat, the participants were required to get up early one morning to harvest mushrooms.

The male partner in the couple got food poisoning from eating the mushrooms. His food poisoning was so severe that he needed hospital treatment. And describing it all these years later, he says it felt like a near-death experience. Because of this health scare, the couple decided to have a child together.

Artie or Arthur is a fairly quiet child who can occasionally be seen eavesdropping on some of his parents’ arguments. They seem to be aware that he listens in on them talking because they sometimes lower their voice when they say things they don’t want their son to hear. And the man in the couple thinks that Artie is a little strange, but when he talks about it with his partner, this father often over-compensates by raising his voice to praise Artie in case the child can hear nearby.

In the beginning of the movie, the man tells his partner about a recent trip to a grocery store, where he wanted to buy aubergines to cook for their son. He saw a grocery store employee with a large stock of aubergines and asked her if any were available to buy. She says no, because another employee who recently got infected with COVID-19 could have handled this produce, and the store is investigating to find out if the aubergines would be safe to sell.

The man in the relationship practically brags with glee about how he verbally abused this grocery store employee when she declined to take £1,000 that he offered to get her to give him one of the aubergines. He says that he called this employee a “big-nosed prick” and a “fucking loser.” And to further demean her, he also said: “This is the reason why you’re stuck in this shitty job, and I’ve got an E-Class [Mercedes] Benz waiting for me outside!” He also said that he dropped all of his groceries on the floor and then walked out.

The man’s partner is so horrified and disgusted by hearing this story that she walks away. It’s meant to demonstrate how callous and condescending he can be. But over time, things happen during the pandemic that teach him some humility and appreciation for people and things that he took for granted. The man in this relationship has a more transformative arc than the woman during the pandemic lockdown.

Throughout this one-year period that’s depicted in “Together,” the couple experiences more ups and downs, including news that a few people they know have been infected with COVID-19. They argue some more, make up, and then argue again. It seems to be a pattern in their relationship that gives them a lot of stress, but it’s something that they’re oddly comfortable with because that’s all they know in how to communicate with each other.

Artie has only one grandparent: his mother’s widowed mother. The parents of Artie’s father are deceased. Artie is very close to his maternal grandmother, who needs nursing care and cannot visit during the quarantine lockdown. Artie’s mother is very worried about what will happen to her mother, who has another daughter who also lives in the United Kingdom. A decision is made on whether or not the grandmother should continue to receive care at home or should be moved to a nursing care facility.

Although none of this couple’s relatives is seen in the movie, the types of relationships that Artie’s mother has with her sister and mother have a deep emotional effect on her. It’s not stated if the man in the relationship has any living relatives. This movie’s lack of a family background for the male protagonsist is a minor screenplay flaw that can easily be forgiven because his character’s personality is so vivid (as unlikable as he can be) and very realistic to how a lot of insecure people behave.

The woman in the relationship isn’t a saint either, since she and her partner say some awful, hateful things to each other. Her main personality flaw is that she doesn’t like to show vulnerabilities and puts up a front that she can handle anything at any time. And that “stiff upper lip” façade might come crashing down on her.

One of the criticisms that “Together” might get is how the couple’s son is mostly in the background during this story of a family that’s supposed to be in lockdown together. The parents do seem self-absorbed, but they are not neglectful, since there are scenes where they interact lovingly with their son. However, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers didn’t want Artie/Arthur to say or do much in this story, because the movie’s focus is on how these squabbling parents are dealing with their own issues that have nothing to do with their son.

Because these two adult characters are front and center for the entire movie, viewer enjoyment of “Together” will be affected by how much someone is willing to spend 92 minutes going on a talkative roller coaster ride of a couple whose relationship always seems on the verge of collapse. Fortunately, Kelly’s witty screenplay gives McAvoy and Horgan an ideal platform to showcase their considerable acting chops. It’s a ride that is sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes amusing, but it’s definitely not boring.

Bleecker Street released “Together” in select U.S. cinemas on August 27, 2021. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on September 17, 2021. BBC iPlayer premiered the movie in the United Kingdom on June 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Military Wives,’ starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan

May 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristin Scott Thomas and Sharon Horgan in “Military Wives” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Military Wives”

Directed by Peter Cattaneo

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, the comedy/drama “Military Wives” has a predominantly white cast (with some black and Asian people) representing middle-class people in the United Kingdom’s military.

Culture Clash: Two very different military wives sometimes have conflicts with each other in how to lead a singing group of fellow military wives.

Culture Audience: “Military Wives” will appeal primarily to people who like British films or movies about “against all odds” groups who have to band together to achieve a certain goal.

Laura Elphinstone, Gaby French, Amy James-Kelly, Laura Rossi, Roxy Faridany, Sharon Horgan and Nadine Higgin in “Military Wives” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Military Wives” takes the serious drama of the Lifetime TV series “Army Wives,” mixes it with the 1992 comedy musical movie “Sister Act,” and comes up with a familiar yet crowd-pleasing blend of female-centric inspiration. “Military Wives”—directed Peter Cattaneo and written by Rosanne Flynn and Rachel Tunnard—is based on a true story of a group of British military wives who form a singing group while their spouses are deployed during the war in Afghanistan.

The group’s story was also made into a 2011 BBC documentary miniseries titled “The Choir: Military Wives,” which featured choirmaster Gareth Malone leading a group of approximately 120 women (none who are professional singers) from RMB Chivenor military base in Devon to become good enough to perform at London’s Royal Albert Hall. The “Military Wives” feature film makes a feminist alteration to the story, by putting two military wives in charge of the choir. However, the movie falls into the predictable cliché of making the two women complete opposites, so that they will clash throughout most of the story.

The two women who are at odds in the film are Kate Barkley (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lisa Lawson (played by Sharon Horgan), who are from Flitcroft Garrison (an Army base) in England. Kate is married to a colonel named Richard (played by Greg Wise), while Lisa is married to a sergeant major named Red (played by Robbie Gee). Kate is grieving over the death of her and her husband’s only child, a son named Jamie, who was killed in the Afghanistan war. Lisa is fretting over the rebellious streak of her teenage daughter Frankie (played by India Ria Amarteifio), who has taken to coming home very late, sometimes drunk.

At the beginning of the story, it’s clear that the differences in Kate’s and Lisa’s social classes affect how they see the world and how they fit in with the rest of the garrison. Richard’s recent transfer has made Kate and Richard fairly new to the area. Lisa works part-time as a cashier at the garrison’s convenience store. The first time that Kate and Lisa meet, Kate swans into the store and asks if the store has any olive oil. Lisa gives Kate an “are you kidding me” look and replies, “We have oil,” as she points to basic grocery-store oil. In turn, Lisa doesn’t look too pleased that she has to settle for this downmarket choice.

Kate’s tendency to be a control freak is also evident when she has a minor argument with her husband over a photo of Jamie that she keeps on their refrigerator. Richard would prefer to have the photo framed and hanging on a wall, while Kate insists that the photo stay on the refrigerator because she thinks having the picture in a frame would be too restrictive for this obviously sentimental photo. Kate has a neat and orderly home, while Lisa’s house is fairly messy.

What both women have in common is the constant worry over their husbands being deployed on another tour of duty in Afghanistan. And that moment comes fairly early on in the movie. It’s Richard’s fifth tour of duty, and there’s added tension because Jamie was killed during Richard’s previous tour of duty.

Kate is the “stiff upper lip” sort of military wife who doesn’t want to be seen as getting weak and overwhelmed by her emotions. By contrast, Lisa doesn’t hide her anger and frustration over her husband being deployed. Lisa is abrupt and standoffish when Red shows affection to her before he leaves for his tour. She blurts out, “I’m just getting ready for another six months as a single mother!” Red is able to smooth things over, but both spouses know that this issue in their marriage won’t be going away anytime soon.

Meanwhile, there’s an Army employee named Brigadier Groves (played by Colin Mace), who oversees the garrison’s Welfare Centre, which houses the social activities. He thinks it’s a good idea that Kate has volunteered to start some new activities for the military wives at the Welfare Centre, because he believes that it will help her heal during the grieving process of losing her son. Kate also has a secret addiction to ordering things that she doesn’t need from home-shopping television. It’s implied that she might have gotten addicted after Jamie died, as a way to cope with the loss.

Lisa has been the unofficial leader of the military wives’ social activities, which consists mainly of informal get-togethers where they get drunk. Kate has other ideas on what the group should be doing. In Kate’s first meeting with the other military wives (a group that varies in size, but totals about 20 to 30 people), her “take charge” personality is on display when she suggests activities that are a little too highbrow for this group, such as exploring international cuisine or forming a club to discuss arthouse films.

Although Kate occasionally acknowledges that Lisa has been the group’s leader and has known these women longer than Kate has, Kate also undermines Lisa’s authority by constantly interrupting Lisa and relegating her to taking notes on what Kate is saying. Kate is able to get away with this bossy attitude because Kate’s husband has the highest military ranking, compared to the rankings of the other women’s spouses. A suggestion to start a knitting club is quickly abandoned when some of the wives try to start the club and end up just getting drunk instead.

One of the better-received suggestions is to start a singing group, but Kate and Lisa can’t even agree on what should be the musical direction of the group. Kate wants the group to be called a choir and sing traditional Christian hymnals. Lisa wants the group to be called a singing group and sing secular pop songs. During the military wives’ first rehearsal to determine their singing abilities, Kate leads them in singing the Christian hymnal “Morning Has Broken.”

But the performance is such a disastrous mess that Lisa walks out and says she won’t be a part of the group. Lisa and Kate have a heated argument that takes place away from the other military wives. Kate convinces Lisa to stay in the group by telling Lisa that she knows that the wives respect Lisa more than they respect Kate and that the wives will follow Lisa’s lead. Kate adds, “You might not need the choir, but those women do.”

And wouldn’t you know, Lisa just happens to have an old portable keyboard that she gets out of storage and she brings with her to rehearsals. Kate and Lisa try to co-lead the group, but it’s clear that Kate sees herself as the one who’s really in charge. However, Lisa gets her way in having the group perform pop songs, when it becomes obvious that pop is the music genre that everyone except Kate prefers for the group, which is called the Flitcroft Choir.

Awkward rehearsal scenes then ensue of the group singing tunes (mostly retro pop hits), such as the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” Yazoo’s “Only You” and Tears for Fears’ “Shout.” The group members venture out to a farmers market to do their first singing performance together. And it’s another out-of-tune disaster, which elicits lukewarm applause from the sparse audience.

However, just like any group that finds its footing, the more that the group members rehearse together, the better they become. There’s a pivotal scene where the military wives are hiking during a social outing, and it starts raining, so they take shelter in a tunnel. They start singing “Only You,” and it’s the first time that their performance really gels and they feel that they might have something special as a group.

In a movie like this, it wouldn’t be a good idea to spread the focus among too many of the group members because it would just take too long and it might cause viewer confusion. Therefore, only three other members of the group (besides Kate and Lisa) are given more of a spotlight in the story than others.

Sarah Wheeler (played by Amy James-Kelly) is a nervous newlywed, married to a private who’s been recently deployed to Afghanistan. Jess (played by Gaby French) is the best singer in group, but she’s terrified of being a soloist. Ruby (played by Lara Rossi) is the worst singer of the group (and she happens to be a lesbian whose wife/domestic partner has also been deployed), so the movie has numerous gags and jokes about other people trying to avoid telling Ruby that she’s a tone-deaf singer.

One day, Brigadier Groves is giving a garrison tour to a high-ranking Army official, who overhears the Flitcroft Choir singing. The official was apparently so impressed, that the next thing you know, Brigadier Groves is telling the wives that the Flitcroft Choir has been invited to perform a song at the nationally televised Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Will they be ready in time? And what happens when Lisa suggests on short notice that their Royal Albert Hall performance should be of an original song, with the music written by Lisa and the lyrics written by the group? Those questions are answered in the last third of the film, which has a tragic plot development, a predictable “race against time” scene and more conflicts between Lisa and Kate.

All of the cast members of “Military Wives” are very good but not outstanding in their roles. (At this point in her career, Scott Thomas seems to be somewhat typecast in playing haughty or uptight characters.) There’s nothing particularly cinematic about “Military Wives,” because seeing it on a small screen would have the same intended impact as seeing it in a movie theater. It’s the type of movie that ultimately has an uplifting message of believing in yourself and giving support to those in need. It might not be an original theme for a story, and the film isn’t made in an innovative way, but only the most miserable cynics won’t feel good after seeing this movie.

Bleecker Street released “Military Wives” in the U.S. in select virtual cinemas, digital, VOD and Hulu on May 22, 2020. Lionsgate released “Military Wives” in the U.K. on May 6, 2020.

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