Kinky Boots

April, 2006, Comedy

The role played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, (Chew-it-tell Edge-oh-for) in this piece of British fluff is as audacious as his name and without it, Kinky wouldn't be worth the time and effort you'd put in to see it. But this remarkably talented British actor, (of Nigerian descent) has so much fun vamping up his role that it's worth the price of admission just to see if he can really go the distance. He does, infusing this audience-friendly exploration of "alternative lifestyles" with a level of charm and vitality that dwarf the film's other attributes in answering the seldom-asked question, where do transvestites go to buy their footwear? If you don't care, perhaps this one's not for you….

The Price Shoe Company of Northampton, (run by Charlie, a self-effacing member of the family's fourth generation) is in crisis; buyers are turning away from the company's trademark, high quality brogans in favor of cheaper and flashier, if more disposable, alternatives. As he painfully declares some of his long-term employees redundant, he's challenged to stop thinking defensively by Lauren, a perky female member of the staff. She tells him to start searching for a new market niche and in a plot twist of appropriate implausibility Charlie promptly does so, coming to the aid of a damsel in distress only to discover that she's a he who's always breaking the heels off shoes because they weren't designed for the weight and height mounted on them. 

The rescue introduces Lola/Simon, (Ejiofor) a black cabaret singer whose sexual orientation and race combine to produce a social outcast who uses flamboyance to hold an often hostile, unfriendly world at bay. As Ejiofor demonstrated so ably in Dirty Pretty Things, (2003) he's capable of drawing sympathy from characters placed in situations of great tension; when he’s being Lola, he's a drag queen with panache, insisting that center stage is just where he/she belongs; but as Simon, the actor displays an Edith Piaf-like vulnerability reflecting the pain of being an outsider so used to being despised he's often guilty of despising himself. There isn't a significant undercurrent of sexual tension here, just one of deep pain occasionally offset by Lola/Simon's satisfaction at being able to rock people back on their heels with brazen behavior that bluntly verbalizes what detractors are thinking but afraid to say out loud.

When Charlie invites Lola/Simon to join the company as a designer, the rest of the staff finds it difficult, in varying degrees, to accept their new co-worker and just as hard to reconcile themselves to the fact that they're being asked to shift their talents from making wing tips to turning out what Lola enthusiastically describes as "two and a half feet of tubular sex!" Will Simon find acceptance as Lola on the shop floor? Will Charlie and the plucky Lauren find true love? Will the new line of glossy boots from Price Shoes find success on the runway in Milan? 

The answers of course, are yes, yes and yes, but predictability doesn't lessen the enjoyment of watching stock characters from countless British social comedies go through their routines once again in pursuit of a gently presented argument for compassion and tolerance. Kinky bares its characters' foibles with pleasantly disarming candor; it loves them all, even as it gently lampoons each wart and mole of their respective personalities. The fact that these are unrealistically cheerful types doesn't alter the seriousness of the message they deliver; sexual differences are just that and best left unjudged. As Lola explains while going through a pile of remnants in her backroom office, "sometimes it's amazing what you'll find among discards". 

There's a bit of everything here; gay nightclub routines, arm-wrestling, a broken engagement and interesting insights into the principles of physics that under-gird the design of stiletto heels. It's all delivered in straight-forward, conventional fashion, with no pretense at being more sophisticated or important than it really is. But this willingness to accept its own modesty gives Kinky Boots a pleasantly reassuring feel. Think of it as comfort food for your emotions.

The verdict? Lightweight to be sure, but wonderfully lighthearted as well.      

 

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