Military Wives is an unabashed feel-good movie. The general template it follows has been used dozens, if not hundreds, of times before. That template offers great comfort when executed well, as it is here. Even though you'll know pretty much everything that's going to happen in the story long before it occurs, the fresh setting and strong performances will keep you invested anyway. A lot of people are in need of some uplift these days, so here's a way of injecting two hours of joy into your life.
The story is set at a military barracks in the UK and follows a group of wives whose husbands have all been deployed to Afghanistan. Lisa (Game Night's Sharon Horgan) is in charge of organizing activities for the women, although she doesn't put a ton of effort into it. Then the colonel's wife, Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), decides she's going to insert herself into the situation. After some debate, the women opt to launch a singing club. Lisa thinks it should be fun and that they should sing pop hits like Human League's “Don't You Want Me.” Kate, on the other hand, believes intense practice sessions are necessary because the members need something challenging to focus on in order to avoid depression.
The two co-leaders clash frequently. At the same time, they create a dynamic that does prove inspirational to the singers, who are a predictably diverse group. Jess (Gaby French) has a killer voice and near-crippling stage fright. Ruby (Lara Rossi) loves singing, despite being tone deaf. Sarah (Amy James-Kelly) is a young bride struggling with anxiety over the thought that her husband will never come home. If you guessed that the group eventually gets enough attention to be invited to perform at a major event, you are correct.
Military Wives is loosely based on a true story. Almost all the facts have been changed and/or squeezed into a formula that allows for maximum heartstring pulling. The choice is understandable, given that real life doesn't always adhere to the three-act structure a movie requires. What matters is that the film focuses on how the women support one another. All of them are going through the same emotions, worrying about their husbands and struggling to make it through each day. Singing gives them a way of expressing those emotions, of doing something constructive with them.
The movie was directed by Peter Cattaneo, whose most popular work was The Full Monty. At times, Military Wives plays similarly, finding humor in the way the characters interact with each other or engage in their unlikely situation. Other times, the plot takes a more serious turn. One of the things it does particularly well is show the anxiety that comes with having a spouse in the military. Sarah confides that she gets nervous every time the phone rings because she worries it'll be bad news. Straddling the line between comedy and drama is tough, but Cattaneo finds the right balance.
At the center of the story – and definitely keeping it afloat during the most predictable moments – are Lisa and Kate. These two women are especially interesting, both emotionally fragile in their own ways. They claim to be putting the chorus together for the other wives, yet it becomes clear that they need it for themselves, too. Horgan and Thomas give sincere, three-dimensional performances, and together they set off fireworks during the third act.
Military Wives certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel. It does, however, manufacture the wheel nicely, leading to two hours of good-hearted, often touching entertainment.
out of four
Military Wives is rated PG-13 for some strong language and sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 52 minutes.