The Full Monty Review
Ah, the great institution that is the quintessential British comedy. Cast back the foggy sands of time and there was an era when good old fashioned English humour ruled the roost, be it Ealing, the Pythons, or even the postcard innuendo of a good old Carry On. Alas, the sad decline in size and stature of anything resembling a British film industry in the least twenty years or so has been mirrored in the sorry demise of that particular brand of cinematic Englishness. Every so often though, the dormant giant receives a kick in the pants and makes a triumphant return with a movie that somehow breaks free of the confines and shackles of its creation and makes an iconic splash on popular culture. The industry kick starts again, albeit for a short burst then fizzles out, waiting to ride on the waves of the next resurgence. Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, with the transatlantic connections of their American starlets and their glossy trendy settings don't really qualify. There are no such doubts however over the Full Monty, which is a big fat pie-eating Englishman of a movie and is all the better for it.
The plotline is simplicity itself. In the bleak surroundings of post-industry collapse Sheffield, two unemployed friends Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and Dave (Mark Addy) team together with their ex-foreman Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) in a desperate search to find a way to claw some money to help their destitution. After chancing upon a male stripping troupe in his local club, Gaz concocts a grand scheme to construct a working mans equivalent, and earn the lads enough money to pay their way out of hardship. Joined by fellow jobseekers Horse (Paul Barber), Guy (Hugo Speer) and Lomper (Steve Huison), and aided by his young son Nathan (William Snape), the men find the work hard going. Struggling to attract attention for their exploits they decide the only way to counterbalance their amateurish attempts is to offer something the professionals won't - and strip to the Full Monty. What makes The Full Monty such an understated triumph is that is skilfully navigates many of the classic pratfalls its peers in the Brit-flick industry fall into. Although adhering to the age-old 'it's grim up north' stereotype, the film never descends into grotesque parody of British culture. There is no superficial preening and two-dimensional social pigeonholing here (unlike for example the endless parade of cockernee wide boy movies - seemingly the only consistent British alternative to the Merchant-Ivory period piece).
The film is similar in standpoint, if not execution, to a Shane Meadows film. More commercial and less gritty maybe, but never the less a well-observed and lovingly constructed snapshot of a local culture rarely seen on the big screen. It's easy to forget after all this time, just what a great film this actually is. Ask anyone in the street and they will be able to recall the famous set pieces, such as the boogie to 'Hot Stuff' in the dole queue, or the immortal final frozen scene of six bare backsides stood before a crowd of baying females, a giant emanation of stage light proudly beaming through Tom Wilkinson's cheeks. To remember such scenes is to neglect the superb framework which underpins the moments of magic: the quiet unassuming joviality that Britain excels in, the distinctive brand of northern humour, the comedic stab of hope in a desolate and depressing existence.
Although many British films take their cues from America, be it in the style of genre used or the presence of known actors, The Full Monty, with its brass bands, grimy streets and back-lane social clubs couldn't be more distinctively British. This is a kind of film that Hollywood could never dream of making in such an idiosyncratic, particular, and ultimately successful way. Hell, it even has Coronation Street's own Les Batterby performing a less than seductive striptease to the strains of Serge Gainsbourg's 'J'taime'. Of course the film wouldn't be what it is without the wonderful performances of the movies key triumvirate of Carlyle, Addy and Wilkinson whose stories essentially make up the heart of the film. All three are shown as flawed characters; Carlyle a jack-the-lad who refuses to grow up, Addy's lack of self confidence taking his marriage down, and Wilkinson, a wannabe capitalist attempting to maintain the veneer of bourgeois living despite his financial straits.
It's a testament to the quality of writing that we sympathise with these characters despite their flaws, and a credit to all three actors who produce warm and rounded performances here. It's no surprise all three have graduated to Hollywood since the film was made nearly a decade ago. What we have here is simply a joy to watch. A landmark film that hits all the right buttons and proves that every dog has its day, and now and again the British film industry gets it right and puts Hollywood to shame. Although it seems like it's been around forever, The Full Monty still entertains like the day it hit the cinemas and is as fresh and ageless as it ever was.
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