Few directors are better suited to material like “Military Wives” than Peter Cattaneo
The man who gave us “The Full Monty” can make us laugh, think and clutch a Kleenex before the end credits.
He’s only partially successful with “Military Wives,” a film sorely lacking a funny bone. The story, “inspired” by actual events, isn’t a knee slapper on paper. Cattaneo’s light-hearted touch lends itself to gentle guffaws but darned if so much as a snicker shows up.
Kristin Scott Thomas stars as Kate, a British wife and mother who lost her son to the war effort, Now, her enlisted hubbie Richard (Greg Wise) is returning to Afghanistan, leaving her to guide the military wives’ choral group. The choir is technically in the hands of Lisa (Sharon Horgan, “Catastrophe”), but Kate has a way of sticking her nose where it’s neither welcome nor belongs.
Still, that whole stiff upper lip routine holds true, at least for a while, with this British ensemble.
The clash between the women couldn’t be more clear. Kate is a stuffed shirt down to her upright collars, eager to lean on classic musical selections. Lisa, juggling a surly teen on the home front, leans toward pop ditties like “Shout” by Tears for Fears.
FAST FACT: Kristin Scott Thomas declared she was done acting in films back in 2014. The Oscar nominee made a similar vow in the 1990s, but despite taking 2015-2016 off she continues to work steadily.
So far, so uninvolving. Only when tragedy strikes the tight-knit choir does “Military Wives” find its voice. That takes a good, long while.
“Military Wives” is part of a small, overdue pop culture trend. Films and TV shows like “Wives,” “Thank You for Your Service” and CBS’s “Seal Team” acknowledge the sacrifices families make when their loved ones go overseas.
Here, Cattaneo’s touch is restrained and respectful, the ideal combination. It helps to have a pro like Scott at the core of this tale. Watch the actress’ face sag when asked to counsel a military wife who just lost her husband. It’s only a second or two long reaction, but it’s perfection.
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Otherwise, the story follows a series of predictable arcs. The choir members are uniformly game but no one stands tall among the group. Kate’s relationship with Richard could use some burnishing, although that would push the movie past the two-hour mark.
“Military Wives” nails the smaller details of these families’ lives, from bonding over frivolous matters to the mixed emotions when its time to say goodbye for what could be an extended period.
That’s assuming everyone comes back home safely.
The film shrewdly avoids any political statements tied to either the military or the Afghanistan war. One brief scene finds anti-war protesters approaching the titular “Wives.” Kate gently tells them they have no choice in the matter.
Both sides seem content with that response. Only in the movies, eh?
In between we get sequences we’ve seen before, even if they’re given a compassionate sheen here. Take one wife’s frustration when her Skype call to her husband stalls due to a technical hiccup.
It’s hard to grouse much more about “Military Wives,” a film with a big, beautiful heart in exactly the right place. The execution remains uneven, desperate for some laughs to help process the pain.
HiT or Miss: “Military Wives” offers a sobering look at war-time sacrifices, but the story runs head first into a formulaic wall.