Saturday, January 06, 2007


These Boots were made for vampin'

By Edward Copeland
Sometimes actors you've been familiar with for awhile but hadn't thought much about can sneak up on you and that's certainly the case with Chiwetel Ejiofor as far as 2006 has been concerned.

I first noticed him in 2002's Dirty Pretty Things and thought he was fine, but didn't think about him much more than that. Since then, he's given solid support in films good (Inside Man), bad (Love, Actually and Melinda and Melinda) and in between (Children of Men).

Then, the waiters and florists that make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association nominated Ejiofor for best actor in a musical or comedy for Kinky Boots, a title that didn't ring a bell but which did sound familiar once I looked into it and found it was available on DVD, so I quickly added it to my GreenCine queue.

Before it moved up to mailing status, I caught Ejiofor again, this time in the HBO film Tsunami: The Aftermath, another title I wasn't aware of until the HFPA nominated Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo and Toni Collette for it. While both those actresses were quite good, Ejiofor was the film's standout as a tourist frantically searching for his wife and daughter after the massive disaster hit Indonesia and elsewhere in 2004. Ejiofor's performance will break your heart and really it's an outrage that the Screen Actors Guild both passed him over in their nominations.

I have to give the HFPA credit for bringing Tsunami: The Aftermath to my attention and for remembering Kinky Boots which, while not a great film, does boast a completely different side of Ejiofor than I've ever seen and contains a great performance from the actor that deserves its place among the year's best.

Ejiofor plays Lola, a Northampton, England drag queen who becomes an unlikely footwear designer when Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) stumbles upon him after inheriting his father's struggling shoe company. His encounter with the fabulous side of life inspires him that a way to save the company might be to manufacture specialty footwear for drag queens that look great, but are sturdy enough to carry men's often more substantial frames.

If that sounds like a slight premise for a film, it is, though director Julian Jarrold does his best to move things along. Kinky Boots belongs to what has almost become a subgenre of U.K.-set films — plucky Brits (or nearly Brits) doing something unorthodox to enliven their lives and livelihoods (Think The Full Monty, Brassed Off, Calendar Girls, Saving Grace, etc.)

None of these films are particularly bad and some are pretty good, but it's beginning to feel like a formula, even if a title card claims that Kinky Boots is "inspired by a true story," but enduring a little formula is worth it just to see Ejiofor's great work as Lola.

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There must be something freaky in the water, because I find myself in total agreement with you on just about everything these days. It's a slight film, but enjoyable on its own terms, and Ejiofor does terrific work. It's so easy to succumb to camp mannerism when you're playing a character as flamboyant as Lola - but Ejiofor makes her believable and touching, emphasizing the frailty beneath the garish surface and making her someone the audience can relate to. It's certainly one of the better performances by a male lead I've seen this year - every so often, even the HFPA is bound to get it right.
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