Secret Society

A group of working-class British men, misshapen in appearance and low on self-esteem, stare down their insecurities by performing a striptease for a public audience. That's the basic premise for The Full Monty, which is no longer a formula so much as a full-blown epidemic, infecting countless quirky comedies that have washed up on American shores. Replace "men" with "women" and "striptease" with "sumo wrestling," and the story goes another round in Secret Society, a feeble and self-congratulatory heart-warmer about a plus-size heroine learning to love her weight. Next to a film like Lovely & Amazing, which locates the subtle and unconscious ways women can perpetuate their body problems, the film seems especially crude and one-dimensional, with an understanding of the subject that cuts no deeper than schoolyard ridicule. Other than a few discouraging calls from her mother, who insists she stick to an impossible diet, Charlotte Brittain has no cause to feel bad about her appearance in the first place. Her worshipful husband Lee Ross appreciates—if not actively fetishizes—her ample frame, so much so that he makes her the model for a racy postcard scheme after losing his low-level job. With no money coming in and creditors knocking at their door, Brittain finds grueling work sorting peas and carrots at a Yorkshire cannery, where she's eyed by a mysterious cabal of hefty female laborers. As it turns out, her boss (Annette Badland) has been recruiting her for secret sessions where the women practice sumo wrestling, a discipline in which size signifies strength and beauty. With Brittain keeping such late hours at the factory, Ross' suspicions lead him to the arbitrarily wacky conclusion that his wife has been taken over by extra-terrestrials. Expanding from the more sensible length of a earlier short, director Imogen Kimmel may have her heart in the right place, but her camera frequently isn't, with surveillance shots that draw little flavor from her generic working-class setting. The film's only novel conceit is to have outsiders delve into sumo ritual, but it doesn't go much further than funny nicknames (Mistress Polar Bear, Mistress Giant White Jellyfish, et al) and an abbreviated competition with a real Japanese wrestling team. And, since Kimmel has no intention of straying from the tried-and-true, no prizes for guessing how everything is going to work out.

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