The Full Monty

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Peter Cattaneo

REVIEWED: 09-15-97

Recently, while watching a few minutes of the laughable Riverdance special on Channel 8, it dawned on me that a lot of audiences are only comfortable with dance when it's cloaked in aggression. In noise musicals like Riverdance and Stomp, the routines are rumbles and the dancers use steps as bludgeons--as if we'd think they were sissies if they moved for any other reason than to threaten each other. On the other hand, the dance scenes I've always loved in musicals, from Singin' in the Rain through Shall We Dance?, were motivated usually by desperation. They needed only a tongue-tied guy whose feelings were so intense that they seized control of his limbs.

A different kind of desperation drives the scruffy heroes of the hilarious British comedy The Full Monty to dance, but it's just as potent--and just as enthralling. The shut-down of a Sheffield steel mill has left dozens out of work, and if the workers don't get on the dole, petty scams and outright lies are the only keys to survival. Everything looks bleak until the enterprising Gaz (Robert Carlyle) whips up an outlandish scheme. Every woman digs the Chippendales shows that sashay through town, right? Gaz will go them one better. He'll turn his equally desperate mates into a troupe of male strippers--men who aren't afraid to show the ladies "the full monty."

The idea seems doomed, especially when the burly blokes strap on thongs and start shaking their booties--a sight that scores belly laughs every time. (As an audition piece, Serge Gainsbourg's lubricious "Je T'Aime...Moi Non Plus" has never sounded loonier.) The beauty of Simon Beaufoy's script is the way it makes the men's nutty decision not only believable but logical. As daft as the notion sounds, these characters' motivations are sound and often touching: They're protecting their kids, their homes--and with a refreshing lack of macho bluster, their masculinity. Baring it all starts to seem more brave than foolish. As show time approaches, the director, Peter Cattaneo, has us rooting for every member, no pun intended.

It helps that the actors--led by Carlyle, who has the young Cagney's brazen energy and roguish charm--are such a scroungy band of underdogs. As a stiff ex-foreman who pretends he still has a job, the veteran character actor Tom Wilkinson makes his gruff rigidity moving; Mark Addy scores as a pudgy pal driven to despair by his lack of self-respect. Child actor William Snape plays Gaz's wary son with just the right note of skepticism. The supporting actors and bit players all seem to have been rounded up in a pub crawl, and their blunt, eloquent faces only add to the movie's appeal.

Audiences will embrace The Full Monty just as they did the recent Shall We Dance?, and for similar reasons. In both movies, dancing is a way to beat back misery and misfortune, and it requires the courage to risk looking ridiculous. The physical exuberance and raunchy good humor of The Full Monty are survival mechanisms--slaps in the face of the same trying times that produced Riff Raff, Naked, Brassed Off!, and the other superb, angry British comedy-dramas of recent Tory rule. But the movie's basic message transcends all cultural boundaries: When in doubt, let it all hang out.

--Jim Ridley

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