Calendar Girls is a documentary on what it means to grow older while exploring the power of friendships, leisure, work and learning new things—even later in life.
This is one in a series of film reviews from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, focused on films by women, trans or nonbinary directors that tell compelling stories about the lives of women and girls. You can find all the reviews together here.
It might seem strange that Calendar Girls, a documentary about a Florida dance troop made up of women aged 50-plus, came to Sundance as part of the World Documentary category—but it’s simply a matter of the origin of its directors, Maria Loohufvud and Love Martinsen, who stem from Sweden. Still, perhaps it’s this outside-in perspective that allows Calendar Girls to function in a way that feels almost completely insulated from the trials and tribulations of U.S. politics and culture.
On the one hand, this sense of isolated attention lends itself well to an intimate study of the women in the group, allowing the film to fully explore the motivations, struggles and apprehensions of its members while also reveling in the clear joy and exuberance the women have for their performances and charity work. On the other, Calendar Girls elides issues of race, class and politics in a way that feels somewhat disingenuous for a documentary shot in contemporary Southwest Florida.
The Calendar Girls are a volunteer group of dancers who book over 100 performances a year in order to raise money for an organization that provides service dogs to veterans. The documentary is mainly composed of interviews with the women interspersed with footage of rehearsals and performances, giving the entire film a lively energy, even as some of its subjects struggle with work, their health or family. Having followed and revisited the women for a couple years, Loohufvud and Martinsen capture a significant cross-section of their lives.
For example, one beloved member, a former police officer who had to retire when she partially lost her hearing but now works for the electric company, suffers through other physical ailments, and eventually has to quit the group. Another, a former inmate, expresses the happiness she experiences having an outlet for creative expression. Toward the end of the film, a relatively new member experiences significant frustration when her husband insists on taking her away from Florida on an extended vacation, making it difficult for her to return home so she can rejoin the group, which has come to embody a significant aspect of her identity.
Embracing whimsy in unicorn-themed headbands one minute and then discussing heavy subjects like death and assisted suicide the next, the Calendar Girls offer their perspectives on what it means to grow older while exploring the power of friendships, leisure, work and learning new things even later in life.
While I felt Calendar Girls could have made some more penetrating inroads into the lives and motivations of its subjects or done a bit more to engage with the political and cultural dynamics that must undergird some of the members’ social interactions, it’s also clear that the film has no designs on being a hard-hitting documentary. And there’s a certain appeal to a story with a narrow, clear focus, likable subjects, and its fair share of entertaining dance routines and delight in the beauty of life.