The Full Monty (1997)

D: Peter Cattaneo
S: Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy

Surprise smash hit comedy featuring unemployed British steelworkers who become male strippers in order to make fast money for a variety of different reasons. A journey through contemporary masculinity unparalleled in recent cinema, this is a refreshingly off-beat and generally agreeable affair which doesn't stretch too far on any count. Firmly rooted in the tradition of low-budget British Indie production (My Beautiful Laundrette, i.d.), it is a small scale portrait of a particular ethos, in this case the steel working community of Sheffield. But unlike many of its predecessors, it is generally upbeat and positive in its portrayal of unemployment, divorce and poverty. It is closer to Ealing whimsy than Thatcherite misery. This alone was enough to endear it to domestic and European audiences. Why it took the U.S. by storm is anyone's guess.

Part of the reason for its success may be the brilliant advertising campaign and the trailer's emphasis on the performance sequences. It is also funny, to be fair, and the performances by all of the cast are convincing and effective. Robert Carlyle (who is everywhere these days following his international breakthrough in Trainspotting) holds the lead very well, but no one dominates the proceedings. Paul Barker as the delightfully nicknamed Horse has a showstealing audition scene which on its own makes the film worth seeing.

The film raises interesting questions regarding gender and performance and with regard to the erotic exhibition of the male body. But it is nonetheless a masculine film, and its incorporation of themes of parental responsibility, homosexuality, economic dependency, class, peer groups, and marital deception provide much of the dramatic weight. Wrapped around a series of sub plots which details these various aspects of the characters' lives is the main comedic narrative where the men conceive, prepare and finally stage their routine. But this ultimately serves as a front drop to the film's dramatic focus. That it comes to such an abrupt conclusion is less surprising given that these sub-plots have been resolved. It is not important that there be any resolution regarding the consequences of the 'full monty' routine itself. This is a film about men's lives not men's bodies, and in that sense it is very traditional.

But it is an earnest and enjoyable film, with several very funny moments scattered throughout (the scene where the men begin to dance in synch in the welfare office is particularly memorable). It tries very hard to achieve a certain texture, part Ealing part Kitchen Sink Drama; and it succeeds. Whether or not it appeals to you may depend on your expectations. It is a far cry from a full blown knockabout comedy (which the trailer and ad campaign seemed to suggest), but neither is it pretentious and unwatchable (which would seem the logical alternative).The Full Monty is an enjoyable view and stays with you after you have seen it. What more could you ask for?

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.