Kinky BootsFor all the complaints about the semi-ghettoisation of British cinema, it often appears closer to its American mainstream counterparts, using the same emotional tricks and feel-good conventions. Julian Jarrold’s Kinky Boots is no exception, composed of generic set pieces and vaguely emotive pathos; a prime example of both the genre’s strengths and its failings.The premise of the film is vaguely quirky, about a failing shoe factory, transvestites, and a conflict between Northern sensibilities and metrosexual mores. Within this, there are the sketchy vestiges of social commentary, and the film even manages to inject a certain amount of tart humour. With a classical narrative ploy of the returning son, and a voyage of re-discovery both for hero and for community, the feel-good atmosphere that pervades the film is nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s practically made for Channel 4, in spirit if not in practice, and will most likely be more than moderately commercially and critically successful.Yet viewed objectively it looks calculated, a compilation of moribund motifs and touchstones from other movies. Its muted panoramas of a failing industrial Northern community is inferior to works such as 1996’s Brassed Off. Even The Full Monty, to which it must be inevitably compared, bettered its attempts at drawing analogies between masculine insecurity and declines in communities. Ironically, Kinky Boots’s greatest weakness is that when it comes to its central issue, its rather too successful for its own dramatic good. By showing us the complications of being true to oneself in a world which has abandoned its certainties in favour of style and transience, it only shows up the complete lack of core to the movie itself, disguised behind a thin layer of cliché.In its attempts to appear altogether liberal and sensitive in its sensibilities, Kinky Boots inevitably limits both its comic potential and the lucidity of its message. The film proclaims that the problem lies not with the individual, but with the interpretation of the social group, and then glorifies the mildly rebellious aims and effects of gender blurring. One character in especial, Lola/Simon, forms the focus for this discussion of gender, but Jarrold doesn’t have the conviction to address the reasons, save for a faintly charming Billy Elliot style flashback sequence. The film as it is cannot tackle these serious questions while still maintaining a primarily comedic tone; as a result, it fails to do either properly and is torn apart by its own paradoxes.The film also soft-peddles, surprisingly, on issues of sexuality. Lola/Simon might be torn, the film suggests discreetly, between a tensely flirtatious friendship with his boss Joel and a faintly flickering thing for his boss’s Northern Lass love interest, but it all ends in typical romance, with Lola left bullish but alone on stage, replete with heels and no hang-ups. Like another character, Chiwetel, when faced with real neurosis the film prefers to stave it off through glitzy set pieces and hollow music numbers.Kinky Boots proudly acknowledges its “based on a true story” origins. This doesn‘t, however, preclude its use of several horribly “quirky” stock-types, such as the eccentric but curiously unshock-able old  landlady. The acting is solid all-round, from both principals and supporting cast, and the cinematography is competent but uninspiring. In the end, though, there is nothing to set this film apart from the chain of look-alikes that have preceeded it in the British film industry.Our nation as it portrayed in its movies seems to be no more than a stockpile of stereotypes and platitudes. From the floppy-haired foppishness of Hugh Grant, to the feisty Northern strippers of The Full Monty, and now with more clichéd Brits to add to the list in Kinky Boots, we cannot seem to muster the courage to make a mainstream film that breaks free from these tired comic motifs. What we need in Britain is not a stiff upper lip, but a film industry with real imagination.ARCHIVE: 1st week MT 2005