Should I Watch..? 'The Full Monty'
What's the big deal?
The Full Monty is a British comedy film released in 1997 and was the debut screenplay for writer Simon Beaufoy. The film depicts a group of unemployed steel workers who are down on their luck and resort to stripping in order to raise some much-needed money. The film also deals with topics including depression (both personal and economic), unemployment, male body image and social class. The film's title is derived from British slang, meaning "everything that is necessary, appropriate or possible - the works". Despite a miserly $3.5 million budget, the film was a massive commercial and critical success with global takings around $258 million and even winning an Academy Award. It was also the highest grossing film in UK history until it was overtaken by Titanic a year later.
What's it about?
The film opens with a promotional film about Sheffield, a thriving city in the north of England built on its mighty steel industry. Cut to today, however, and the city is in decline as the factories close and former steel workers like Gaz are reduced to stealing scrap metal in order to make any money. Together with his friend Dave and estranged son Nathan, they spend their days drifting around the city like ghosts and generally shirking any responsibility. After walking past a club hosting the Chippendales striptease act, Gaz is inspired to replicate their show in order to raise some money fast.
However, it's not as easy as he supposes. Neither he or Dave are built for stripping and their fellow dancers are plagued with other issues such as feeling suicidal, being too proud to admit their failings to their spouses and a general lack of physical co-ordination. Despite initial scepticism, the boys are determined to make a go of it and soon, the most unlikely group of men slowly begin to refine their ramshackle performance...
Gary "Gaz" Schofield
Release Date (UK)
29th August, 1997
Best Original Music or Comedy Score
Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay Written Directly For The Screen
What's to like?
The film is an immensely difficult one to dislike, in no small part due to the huge amount of charm within. The Full Monty works as a strange wish-fulfilment for ordinary blokes with beer bellies and hen-pecking housewives, showing us deeply flawed individuals overcome their obstacles to become something greater. The comradery between the lead actors is palpable and great credit is due to them all, especially young Snape in his debut performance. The comedy is thankfully not just a collection of cheap nudity and toilet humour - the thick Sheffield accents and language give the film authenticity while the soundtrack also provides plenty to enjoy.
For anyone who has only seen Carlyle as the psychotic Begbie in Trainspotting, his performance here is a stark contrast - Gaz is loveable, cheeky and determined to do anything for his son's sake. Each character gets their own moment in the film that illuminates much of their character from Gaz's ex-wife threatening to claim sole custody of Nathan to Dave's lack of body confidence and Gerald desperately keeping the bailiffs out of his house. This could have been a desperately awkward sex comedy, the sort of old-fashioned nonsense that most sitcoms would think twice about shooting. But the characterisation is perfect and with the cast, lifts this to something much more palatable and fun.
- The title allegedly caused problems in the US as studio executives couldn't find a character called Monty. Some cinemas in the States even produced leaflets translating some of the English slang for viewers to keep up with the dialogue.
- The six leads did perform an actual full-frontal striptease in front of 400 extras, described by Cattaneo as a one-take deal. A choreographer was in front of the stage, out of shot, shouting instructions to the cast.
- The opening promotional film about Sheffield is genuinely taken from such a film from 1972. The film was all-but-forgotten until the producers of it were paid £400 for the rights for use here.
What's not to like?
The film's feel-good factor cannot override the sense of predictability that comes with the story. Even if you haven't seen the film before, you can probably guess the final sequence with remarkable accuracy. It also feels a little rushed in places whereas I would have liked a little more focus on other characters such as Lomper and Dave's wife Jean, brilliantly played by Lesley Sharp and cruelly denied some much deserved screen-time. Speaking of which, Sharp's role is the only significant one given to female characters - even Emily Woof as Gaz's ex-wife doesn't get much screen-time while most other women are portrayed as sex-starved drunks. Lastly, I also would have liked an epilogue - sounds strange but having come to know and sympathise with these characters, I wanted to see how things changed for them after the show. Alas, the film's final shot leaves us with a bit of a bum deal.
Generally speaking though, The Full Monty is a delightful comedy about working-class men doing what they can to survive, an odd sub-genre of movie we Brits tend to do rather well. But this is no Ken Loach picture, full of grim northern scenery and poverty porn. This is uplifting, positive and almost life-affirming and it makes a dramatic change to see such characters in such a positive light. No wonder it made such an impact on cultural life here in the UK as its beloved soundtrack still resonates with viewers today.
Should I watch it?
It's not riotously funny but The Full Monty is an amusing and uplifting look at the lengths people go to to get ahead in life. Enhanced by a cracking soundtrack and a cast littered with talent, the film remains a highly enjoyable affair that doesn't resort to crudity or offensive humour to win you over. It's beguiling and charming from the off and is perfect for a family night in.
Great For: queueing in a post office, the unemployed, cheeky senses of humour, Donna Summer's record sales
Not So Great For: northern stereotypes, actual Chippendales
What else should I watch?
Stripping in movies isn't a recipe for box office success, even if it does tend to generate headlines and publicity. Most examples, from the tawdry trash of Showgirls to the equally diabolical Striptease, settle for exploiting their leading ladies in order to become a hit with the dirty mac brigade. Even if stripping isn't an essential element of the film, it can often lead to disaster as Lindsay Lohan found out to her cost in the record-breaking (at the Razzies) psychological thriller I Know Who Killed Me. Turning the tables on genders doesn't help either - Magic Mike gives Channing Tatum a chance to go back to his earlier career on the big screen but isn't what I'd call entertainment. But then again, why would I go and see a film about male strippers?
The British film industry had stagnated somewhat by the mid-90's until the all-conquering Four Weddings And A Funeral smashed the box office wide open. From then on, a parade of quality cinema emerged from these shores of which The Full Monty was one such example. From Danny Boyle's iconic Trainspotting and the sumptuous historical drama The Madness Of King George to the Cockney crime caper Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and northern ballet-boy biography Billy Elliot - which shares much of its DNA with this film - there are a range of movies for you to discover and enjoy.
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© 2017 Benjamin Cox