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Review: Calendar Girls – “You’ll like the attitude found amongst the subjects of the documentary”

Calendar Girls, Photo by Love Martinsen

As you dive into the city of Cape Coral in southwest Florida, a sign greets you: “You’ll like the attitude in paradise.”  Without a doubt, you’ll like the attitude found amongst the subjects of the documentary Calendar Girls as well.  No, this isn’t related to the 2003 film of the same name starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, though there are some similar themes of independence and identity (but no nudity – these Calendar Girls have a strict dress code).  

This film, which had its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year, is directed by Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen and follows a dance team for women over 60.  Its members form a tight bond and a sisterhood as they travel around Florida, often doing up to 130 performances per year, and practicing 100 days a year on top of that.  It’s a commitment, not only to the team, but to themselves.  As a group, they work to fundraise for Southeastern Guide Dogs, a charity that places trained canines with veterans.  It gives direction and intention to their dance routines as they tour around various events.  

More than that though, the Calendar Girls gives a sense of purpose and belonging to its individual members.  These are women who have held careers, who have been known as mother, as wife, and as caregivers for so many years of their lives and now in retirement find themselves asking who they are in the absence of these roles.  “What is my purpose?” asks one woman whose parents have passed and whose children have grown.  The Calendar Girls, underneath glitter, smokey eyes, red lipstick, and unicorn horns allows many of them to reconnect with themselves at a time when so many of the things they associated with their identity are stripped away.  

Society largely considers women of a ‘certain age’ invisible.  These women are anything but.  Belonging to the Calendar Girls is a new chapter for many, a new beginning, a chance to do something for themselves, perhaps for the first time, while feeling a sense of belonging to a greater sense of community.  Under the leadership of Katherine Shortlidge, an athletic 71 year old whose fitness is only superseded by her organizational skills, the women push themselves creatively and physically, whether dancing to Backstreet Boys or Harry Belafonte.  They learn make up techniques on YouTube tutorials, they glue together headpieces to make ‘patriotic antlers’ for a Christmas performance.  They do it all while dealing with their own challenges: husbands who don’t support this new passion, loss, physical illnesses that threaten their ability to continue to dance.  

Yet, despite adversity, which includes societal expectations on these women, they find joy in each dance step, in each costume.  The filmmakers themselves discovered this group of women while with their kids at a local Cape Coral event in 2018 and were immediately struck by how happy they made them and the crowd, yet they also made them feel a bit uncomfortable.  Here was a group of women, “old ladies”, that were acting flirty and sexy, that moved with unapologetic confidence.  

The directors and the Calendar Girls themselves ask us to update our thinking on what it means to be a woman over 60.  It demands, rightfully so, that we look at our own prejudice towards this vibrant and vital group, a prejudice that has been perpetuated by culture and even by film itself.  Calendar Girls may be part of a catalyst towards a greater paradigm shift, where instead of making these women feel invisible, we instead celebrate their individuality, and acknowledge that we will continue to change and evolve throughout our lives, no matter our age.  If it takes a little glitter and glam to get there, all the better.  

Calendar Girls is currently playing in select theatres New York and Florida, opening in Los Angeles November 18, 2022.  You can go to the film’s website for additional and updated screening information.

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