Calendar Girls (2022) Review: Have you ever imagined yourself to be your older self? Not as middle-aged, but as one of the fastest growing demographic, the retiree, those aged sixty and above? It is a perplexing and disconcerting time when people may become less visible and lack a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Defying the odds of age and refusing to give up, the Calender Girls have found their ‘ikigai,’ a Japanese concept that roughly means your “reason of being” or raison d’être. They are Florida’s most dedicated dance troupe for women over 60, who are in hot demand, performing between 100 and 130 days a year. This entourage of elderly ladies is “not just old broads out there dancing.” They are a delightful bunch who raise money through their performances at charity events and their annual calendar sale for an organization that provides dogs to disabled veterans.

Swedish writer-director duo Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen’s debut dance documentary Calendar Girls is an uplifting coming-of-old-age story of the eponymous volunteer group of dancers who are trying to age on their terms, refusing to become invisible. The Calendar Girls are introduced to us for the first time by the hostess of an event, who says, “These are women of a certain age. But they still love to dance… they are not all professional dancers. But they love this.” When we see them take center stage, they are dressed as rainbow unicorns wearing pink shimmy dresses and unicorn-themed headbands, reciting, “We use magic from our hearts to make the world a better place.” They have a signature style with coordinated costumes and accessories – glamorous costumes, elaborate hand-made headdresses, statement earrings, smokey-eye makeup, a bright red shade of lipstick, and fishnets.

Calendar Girls offers a refreshing celebration of life from the unique experiences of older women who allow themselves to pursue something they enjoy without shame. These women subvert the traditional and outmoded image of “the little old lady” with that of vibrant and energetic women who can dance their hearts out. Composed of thirty-some all-female members, the documentary primarily focuses on the personal lives of five women, their concerns, struggles, motivations, and apprehensions. The interviews with the women are interspersed with intimate conversations and footage of dance rehearsals and performances. It also adds some dreamy and whimsical sequences in which the members dance in slow motion, giving a dramatic quality to their intimate character study.

The film documents the lives of five beloved members offering a cross-section of the toe-tapping troupe. The dynamic and determined leader, Katherine, is a tall, willowy figure with slender arms who reminds you of a cheerleading captain and an army general with her planning, consistency, and control over the members. She is excessive and commands the pack about the forthcoming performances, generates costume ideas, presents new members, and runs rehearsals. We also learn about Nancy, a former cop from Baltimore, who had to retire when she partially lost her hearing. She finds the company of her female companions exhilarating as she has primarily worked in a male-oriented field. She reflects, “I’ve never hung out with females before… Now, I’m coming to a world of thirty sisters teaching me how to become a lady.” We witness her plight when she has stomach paralysis that causes her to lose her energy by the day and eventually quit the group. 

Another Calendar Girl, Fran, designs the costumes and elaborate headpieces through which she finds an outlet for creative expression. She finds happiness and satisfaction in her work and says, “I didn’t know that I could do any of this. I didn’t know that I could create like that.” However, we also witness the conflict with her husband, who is unreasonable and dismissive of her endeavors. Her controlling husband calls her lazy for indulging and devoting her time to the creation of headbands, and she confesses, “I don’t want to clean houses anymore.” We also find her trapped in her husband’s winter home on an extended vacation without a way to deliver the headdresses she had made for the Calendar Girls’ Christmas show while her husband lazes around.

 We are also introduced to an unnamed new member who struggles in rehearsal, having difficulty learning the moves, feeling doubtful about applying makeup, and feeling stressed about her family’s disapproval. But, after her first performance, she feels fulfillment as we see her enjoying it in slow-motion with a big smile. As someone who had been a caretaker all her life: her husband, her children, and now her grandchildren, she feels for the first time that she is doing something for herself. Eventually, she also leaves as she has to help her daughter with her new baby, taking the decision out of her hands. Another woman joins the gang after getting out of prison and feels grateful for welcoming her to the troupe without judgment and for helping her grow as a person. It is incredibly gratifying to see her managing the music list on an iPad, bobbing her head along with the Calendar Girls’ performances.

The documentary is an affectionate and intimate study of sexagenarian dancers who struggle with different conflicts in their life. They each have their cross to bear –unsupportive husbands who struggle to adapt to their wives’ new life as performing artists, struggle with illness and ailments, their families, personal history, and their internal disappointments. However, this non-traditional sisterhood has found its escape, salvation, and liberation in their full-time gig, where they revel and find themselves. The pensioners have also learned to seize the day, live life to the fullest, and find meaning and purpose in life by learning new things. The women also rage against the way older people become invisible in a youth-worshipping world. The “invisible feeling” where “you’re not needed by anyone anymore” makes them all the more humane and their loneliness and neglect tangible.

Calendar Girls thematically explores the power and support female friendships offer, the requisite of confronting aging and invisibility with a positive outlook and confidence, and the need to find a sense of purpose for a meaningful existence. It also delves into the importance of prioritizing oneself, finding happiness in helping others, and the essentiality of learning new things—even later in life. We readily empathize with the elderly group when the members discuss what makes a good death, and they matter-of-factly discuss suicide and assisted death to have a dignified end. Yet, it also renders light humor when one of the performers asks to “bring that belly in!” and another adds good humor, “Some of our bellies don’t listen.” The 90-minute documentary is crisp as it condenses the powerful moments and compresses personal stories in mini-narratives. The costumes and dance numbers are enjoyable, but the sisterhood’s support system makes it more affecting and endearing. It goes all the way in showing show how to approach and cope with old age, the last stages of our lives: by looking for the silver lining, discovering new passions and connections, and with self-preservation and self-love.

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Calendar Girls (2022) Official Trailer

Calendar Girls (2022) Documentary Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes


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