Full Monty, The (United Kingdom, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Full Monty is the third recent dramatic comedy to emerge from the United Kingdom to illustrate the effects of unemployment on the individual and the family. Like Brassed Off! and The Van, The Full Monty combines humor with light drama to explore the manner in which a group of men cope with the emotional and financial toll of being "force adjusted." Moreso than its two immediate predecessors, however, The Full Monty is interested in getting the audience to leave the theater with a warm feeling, and, considering this undemanding agenda, it's reasonably successful.

No one would ever call The Full Monty ambitious. In fact, with its confident reliance upon formulaic situations and familiar characters, it's anything but that. Most of the credit for the film's success must go to the game troupe of actors and director Peter Cattaneo, who allows the story to develop in an unforced, easygoing manner. Originality may be at a premium here, but The Full Monty offers plenty of opportunities for laughter and genial smiles.

The movie opens in Sheffield, England, a major steel working city whose central industry has been modernized and mechanized. Productivity is up, but the victims of the automation are the workers, many of whom have been laid off. The Full Monty focuses on one such man, Gaz (Scottish actor Robert Carlyle, who played Begbie in Trainspotting), who can't find an appealing job and is hundreds of pounds behind on child support payments to his ex-wife, Mandy (Emily Woof). Gaz's best friend, Dave (Mark Addy), and his former boss, Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), are also unemployed. Their collective inability to find work is eating into their self-esteem. Gaz's son doesn't want to spend time at his dad's house because it's always cold, Gerald is frightened to tell his credit card-obsessed wife that he doesn't have a job, and Dave loses his ability to perform sexually.

Things change when the Chippendales arrive in Sheffield to perform a show. The tremendous crowds that turn out for the event give Gaz an idea. If male strippers who don't take it all off can rake in the money, what about those who are willing to show "the full monty"? In short order, Gaz has recruited an unlikely group of dancers: a sad loner (Steve Huison), an aging black man with rhythm and a bad hip (Paul Barber), and a cheerful, well-endowed young man (Hugo Speer) who has the body but not the moves. Drawing upon Gaz's enthusiasm and Gerald's experience as a ballroom dancer, the band of six develop a routine, dancing with and without clothes to the songs of Donna Summer, Gary Glitter, and Tom Jones.

Unlike other recent stripper movies (Showgirls and Striptease, for example), The Full Monty throws pretended eroticism out the window. There isn't a sexually provocative moment in the film. The nudity is discretely handled, although the actors did in fact perform a live strip show in front of 400 extras in a sequence that was, according to the director, "a one-take deal." This lends a degree of spontaneity to The Full Monty that makes the movie's climactic scenes more believable and enjoyable.

The degree to which the actors manage to bring their characters to life is a key reason why The Full Monty is a little better than countless other pictures with similar goals. The six members of the group relate well to each other and engage our sympathy. Robert Carlyle plays Gaz with the right mix of pathos and energy. The actor continues to impress with his range, adding this film to an impressive resume that includes Ken Loach's Riff-Raff, Michael Winterbottom's Go Now, and the aforementioned Trainspotting. Tom Wilkinson (Sense and Sensibility) has the "stuck up bastard with a good heart" role down pat. And, as the overweight Dave, Mark Addy brings to the fore feelings of insecurity that almost anyone can relate to.

The Full Monty is basically about overcoming adversity and succeeding is spite of certain perceived shortcomings (no pun intended). Cattaneo borrows a tactic that numerous, recent Australian comedies have adopted: incorporating a slew of pop hits into the soundtrack. What The Full Monty lacks in depth, it makes up for in good will and likeability. This isn't a great movie, but it's breezy, enjoyable, and easy to sit through. And sometimes, even when dealing with a serious issue like unemployment, that can be the perfect tone to drive home a message.

Full Monty, The (United Kingdom, 1997)

Director: Peter Cattaneo
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy, Steve Huison, Paul Barber, Hugo Speer, Lesley Sharp
Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy
Cinematography: John de Borman
Music: Anne Dudley
U.S. Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 1997-08-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1