Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Full Monty Movie Review

I wanted to revisit The Full Monty because in my memory, it resides in a place where thruway, but well-made popular entertainments go to die. Every time I’ve considered its pace among five Oscar Best Picture nominees (competing against L.A. Confidential, Titanic, Good Will Hunting, and As Good as It Gets, it was the definition of “it’s an honor just to be nominated.”) Was it also a stroke of incredible good fortune to be nominated? Was it really that good or did it just tickle audiences the right way and have the right wards marketing team to help it fill a niche spot in the category often reserved for light quirky comedies that make a lot of money and get people talking? C.f. Four Weddings and a Funeral and Chocolat.


Here was a little British working class comedy directed by Peter Cattaneo from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy about a city in enormous economic decline years after the closing of the steel plant that employed so many of its residents. The out-of-work men spend their days wiling away the hours at a job center where they have no real prospects or motivation.

At the center is Gaz (Robert Carlyle, making a giant leap from his Trainspotting role). He’s divorced and has a son about eleven or twelve years old whom he can’t afford to help support. He’s one of these guys who is perpetually looking for the easy way out of financial troubles. Opportunity is there for work, but in fields he refuses. He’s a loving and affectionate father, but when he takes his son on an expedition to rob a steel girder from the defunct plant, his son asks, “Why can’t we do normal things?”

Everyone may differ on their definition of “normal,” but certainly the way they spend their time together over the next weeks is not traditional. Upon realizing how much a bunch of chiseled blokes can make by stripping down in front of a club full of ladies can make, Gaz gets his best mate Dave (Mark Addy) to help him recruit some dancers for a show to make some fast cash. The key to their success is Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), their former boss, who takes dance classes with his wife – who doesn’t know he’s unemployed. They also get Lomper (Steve Huison), a pale-faced, red-haired, scrawny security guard at the factory; Horse (Paul Barber), an aging man who once had some moves; and Guy (Hugo Speer), the young hot stud to draw the crowds.

Read one way, The Full Monty is a silly lark of a movie, a trite comedy about out-of-shape, over-the-hill men stripping down for not much money in the end, but there’s a lot more depth in the subtle social and economic commentary in the story. Beaufoy’s script works in issues of parenting, father-son bonds, marital problems, lack of confidence and self-worth attached to unemployment, changing economic realities that can sink a city dependent on a single industry. There’s all that and there’s also some interesting depiction of gender roles and hat tips toward homosexuality, suicide, and child endangerment. There are serious issues at play here, but Cattaneo’s direction treats them with a deft touch that allows us to laugh when Dave foolishly fails to recognize what a man about to smother himself in his car looks like.

Look at how these men react to any variation on traditional gender roles. First of all there’s Gerald, so ashamed that he can’t even tell his wife the truth. Catching Dave’s wife at a strip how, Gaz realizes that they need to do something to change the direction of their lives and, by extension, the city. It’s the sight of a woman peeing into a urinal from a standing position that completely upends their understanding of their place in the world. Yes, it’s played for laughs, but consider for a moment what it signifies. For these guys, women are poised to make men obsolete except as fetish objects. Is this the result of failing to provide for your family and watching your son being raised by nother man, especially a man from the middle class who doesn’t come home with dirty hands? You bet. So their solution is to give women a little taste. Lacking the physiques to impress, they have to make the promise to strip down to nothing on stage – the full monty.

The best-directed sequence and the key to understanding the film’s ethos is when Gaz and Dave distract Gerald during a job interview through the window with his own garden gnomes. I remember nearly wetting myself laughing the first time. It’s a scene made all the more hysterical by the look of shock and horror on Gerald’s face as he realizes what’s happening. But then Cattaneo pulls the rug right out from under you in the next scene when we see Gerald’s despair. He didn’t get the job and it may be their fault. Suddenly we are complicity in the distraction for laughing at something that has cause so much harm.

This juxtaposition sums up the tone of the movie, forcing us to remember that there are real consequences and real lives at stake in this story. The touching moment follows when Gaz and Dave approach Gerald with his gnome repaired and a new piece for the garden. It’s a gesture that can’t possibly make up for the lost opportunity, but it’s one of genuine apology and friendship. it is the start of the male bond, camaraderie, and unorthodox therapy sessions that will see these guys through their minor victory dance in front of 200 screaming ladies as we look on at their bare asses from behind.

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