The Full Monty

Metro Pulse

DIRECTED BY: Peter Cattaneo

REVIEWED: 09-22-97

Last year, Demi Moore laid it out for everyone to see: a film about a blue-collar, divorced woman forced to strip so she could afford to have custody of her child. Now comes a British film about a blue-collar, divorced bloke forced to strip so he can afford to share custody of his child. And there the similarities end, for Striptease was purely a biological documentary on Moore's superb cosmetic surgery, while The Full Monty is everything her much-hyped epic wanted to be: a clever little comedy about real people that deftly tackles social issues. Plus, it's funny.

With two films using such similar plots, it's a rare opportunity to examine just how divergent the mindsets were behind them. With Striptease, the creators' priorities were clear: Demi's gonna take her top off! Characterization, plot, dialogue...all that was purely secondary to the "event" the studio was hoping to cash in on; so little thought went into the actual script that the final product was no more enlightening or inspiring than Porky's 4. The Full Monty, on the other hand, has very little to do with baring flesh and much more to do with exposing the fears and foibles of its characters. From this, captivating stories are born.

Set in Sheffield, England, The Full Monty's sense of place is palpably real; this is no Hollywood backlot. After showing us a fairly campy old newsreel about how Sheffield's steel industry has made it a city "on the go," director Peter Cattaneo drops us into the modern day reality of a community gone to seed. Many of its factories now empty hulks, and many of its male citizens jobless, Sheffield today is a bleak landscape of aimlessness.

Enter our hero, Gaz (Robert Carlyle, whose Begbie was everyone's favorite psychopath from Trainspotting)—a likable fellow who doesn't do much with himself. Unemployed, he mostly wastes time at the government job center pretending to get employment training. His son Nathan lives with his mother, who is now remarried to a well-off yuppie. Although Nat likes his father, he's often embarrassed by his dopey money-making schemes; for his part, Gaz simply wants to retain Nat's affection because it is the only positive thing he has left. Likewise, his best friend Dave (Mark Addy) is completely insecure about his future, his love life, his weight. How can they turn themselves around?

After seeing the success of a local Chippendales male revue, Gaz comes up with his big idea: What if they put on their own strip show? An absurd notion to be sure—What woman would pay to see them naked?—but Gaz attacks it with his usual clumsy single-mindedness. He holds tryouts in an abandoned factory and casts his troupe: the skinny, suicidal Lumper; the aging Horse; the cheerful, well-endowed Guy; and ex-supervisor and ballroom dancer Gerald. Each is a genuine, three-dimensional character—and, lo and behold, that's were The Full Monty's fun comes from.

No matter how ridiculous this motley crew looks as it practices for the big show, the fact that these men have joined together to actually do something gives them a new sense of purpose. Previously, the fellows had all but lost their identities: Unemployed, they couldn't be considered the breadwinners anymore; usurped by Chippendales, they were no longer sexual he-men. ("Men aren't even needed anymore," grouses Dave. "We're dinosaurs.") As we learn more about these personal fears, finally watching the boys get enthused about learning new disco dance steps and dropping their trousers is guffaw-level comedy.

But men doing silly things isn't the only point here—The Full Monty actually gives us a thoughtful (and entertaining!) look at how a negative body image can destroy self-esteem. In a telling scene of role reversal, one of the guys flips through a women's magazine, commenting on a model's breasts. Suddenly, it occurs to them that they're about to be examined and judged in exactly the same way—and that "a good personality" doesn't mean a thing when you attempt to make yourself a sex object.

Whether or not the boys go through with their venture is not the entire goal of The Full Monty's plot, though—it's what they do along the way and how it affects them. And in the hands of this talented cast, it's a pleasure to watch. Carlyle's 180 degree turn from his infamous Begbie is surprising—as Gaz, he's funny, charming, and downright endearing, a loser you can't help but root for. Addy is also a charmer, even though his character is completely defeated by his predicament—even so, Addy's glinting eyes reveal the man his character once was and will hopefully be again.

The Full Monty ought to serve as an example to the drones of the Hollywood factories; it succeeds because it has well-thought-out storylines, characters, and dialogue. This is simple stuff, really, and The Full Monty is a simple movie; there's nothing terribly complicated about it. So the next time we have to sit and stare at Demi Moore's breasts, for God's sake give us a plot we can accept. Is that asking too much?

--Coury Turczyn

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