TIFF19 Film Review: Military Wives

Written By: Riyan Bajric

In this massive world of cinema, whether you’re a cinephile or not, it’s a guarantee that at one point or another, you’ve all watched a war film. Some better than others, but for the most part, the subject matter of war has always been one of great distain and scruple seriousness. Luckily, this year at TIFF, aside from the high-profile and hopeful Oscar contender Jojo Rabbit, another hidden TIFF entry to the light-hearted war cannon is Military Wives. Since the war on terror, any film that would dare touch upon light-hearted and comedic subject matters pertaining to such a heart-felt and heavy area, seems almost unheard of a decade ago. But here we are today, almost desensitized to violence, war and the chaos that ensues within the war film genre, and while so many of the incredible war films to have come out, directly dealing with issues of shell-shock and PTSD, Military Wives dares to shift the focus of the war film genre to a subject matter that is still heart wrenching yet much cozier and warmer to the touch, which is expected from the director of The Full Monty.

Director Peter Cattaneo decides to rebalance the atrocities of war and deliver a crowd-pleasing, light-hearted venture into the fray of a very serious yet unanswered question; what exactly happens to the lives of these wives, who allow their husbands, spouses and partners to enter the ferocity of war?

Military Wives centres on a group of women who’s partners have all been deployed into Afghanistan, and the inner and daily routines of these women who, whenever whenever a phone rings or the bells on their front doors chime, are on constant pins and needles. Housed together in a communal military base, Cattaneo focuses on exactly what a group of women would do, if there was nothing else to do but wait, hope and pray.

Based loosely on real events from around the world, almost as a collective research project, the film follows two women, Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Lisa (Sharon Horgan), embodying so many services wives worldwide. Cattaneo’s two lead female protagonists are polar opposites; one a very strict and experienced war wife; the other a more free-spirited and emotional wife and mother. While both Kate and Lisa, as expected, start off at opposite ends of their ideals and ideologies, as expected, they begin to slowly find themselves meeting in the middle. Stricken with the responsibility of entertaining the remaining wives on the base, due to their husbands high ranks, the two begin brainstorming ideas of bringing the women together, and settle upon a choir.

Calculated and old-school with her approach to classical teaching of music, Kate begins training the women the best and only way she knows how; by learning music and musical notes. Whereas Lisa, a more impulsive and emotional musical student, begins easing the women into the choir idea by means of karaoke, singing songs and using references to The Beatles, Spice Girls and other 80’s icons. Both women, stricken with heavy emotional burdens throughout the film, begin reconnecting a fragile group of women who, at any moment, may hear of their husbands demise on the battlefield.

As unlikely a duo as Batman and Porky Pig, Thomas and Horgan give the film its real heart and provide some lovely scenes of female bonding, sisterhood and adoration, that comes very rarely in festival films. While the film would have trouble during the light-hearted summer season, jam packed with Marvel fare and superhero films abound, and yet, not really much of a early year release thanks to the high-caliber content and acting, Military Wives is a proper festival film that will surely find its audience on limited release among speciality theatres, around the world.

While the ending of the film is far from a mystery, the process towards getting there is a real treat. Filled with amazingly loveable and endearing secondary characters, including Jason Flemyng, who plays the wives on-base authoritarian figure, Lara Rossi, the only gay wife in the film who cannot hit a single musical note if her life depended on it, as well as the groups shining star and lead vocalist, Military Wives is a Sunday type of film that is sure to put a huge smile on your face, the night before a long week ahead.  

A true underdog story for the masses, overall Military Wives is a feel good film with a more intelligent sense of humour and emotional depth than most sentimental comedies today, especially all the litter Netflix is producing, on what seems to be the daily. Military Wives is a film with a lot of personality, love and heart, and during a festival season, its exactly whats needed.

Night Film Reviews: 7.5 Out of 10 Stars!

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