At another time, I might be inclined to point out that anyone could correctly guess everything that will happen in the comfort-food comedy “Military Wives” — and that it follows the same recipe as a dozen other movies.
But right now, I have to say that this meatloaf tastes pretty good.
“Military Wives” is inspired by a true story, with “inspired” meaning “vaguely similar to, except in virtually all of the details.” Its title characters are women in England whose husbands (and, in one instance, wife) are off serving in Afghanistan, with few opportunities to call home. The wives begin a choir to distract themselves from the humdrum terror of their situation.
Director Peter Cattaneo knows this territory better than anyone. He helped establish the template with “The Full Monty,” one of many heartwarming comedies about ragtag, working-class British folks who pull themselves up by their bootstraps to learn an unlikely skill and cheer up a nation during troubled times. See also “Brassed Off,” “Calendar Girls” and this month’s “Dream Horse” for other examples of this loose subgenre. (Actually, between “Sister Act,” “Paradise Road,” “Unfinished Song,” “The Choir” and others, inspirational chorus movies are practically a genre all their own.)
The odd-couple leaders of “Military Wives” are Kate (Kristin Scott Thomas), an uptight organizer who wants everyone to suddenly transform into coloraturas who sing scales, followed by arias; and Lisa (Sharon Horgan, co-creator of the Amazon series “Catastrophe”), a slapdash wife and mom who is forced to participate because everyone likes her and nobody likes Kate. Lisa sees things differently from her co-leader. She thinks the choir should be group karaoke, fueled by day drinking.
What distinguishes “Military Wives” is its attention to character detail. For instance, it would be easy to demonize the unfriendly, rigid Scott Thomas character, but Cattaneo is interested in why she behaves the way she does, which has to do with the fact that her husband (dashing Greg Wise, Mr. Emma Thompson) is an officer and that she has lost a son to war. Also, when she argues that discipline would make for a better choir, she’s not wrong.
An odd-couple pairing is always a good way to give a movie some light conflict. It works here because the droll Horgan plays so well off Scott Thomas, and because her character makes sure the rehearsal scenes let us hear ’80s hits like “Shout” and “Time After Time” instead of, say, “Nessun Dorma.”
As the singers make their way to a finale concert in Royal Albert Hall, moviegoers are likely to wonder how accurately the movie depicts the real Military Wives Choir, which became a phenomenon in the United Kingdom and led to the formation of dozens of choirs. Wisely, Cattaneo anticipates this curiosity and satisfies it with a moving epilogue that concludes “Military Wives” on the perfect note.