Remember the old adage "We're not laughing AT you, we're laughing WITH
you"? That's what makes the delightful British film "The Full Monty" work
so well. Over the course of 90 minutes spent with the most unlikely male
strip troupe ever, their friends and neighbors go from laughing at them
to laughing with them, and so do we. In addition to big laughs, "The Full
Monty" has a big heart.
A series of vignettes sets up the sad plight of a group of men in
Sheffield, England. They had been workers at the town's booming steel
factory, but times have changed. Now the unemployed gents hang around the
job center, playing cards and smoking while looking forward to nothing in
particular. That is, until Gaz (Robert Carlyle, memorable as the
explosive psycho in "Trainspotting") spies on a group of women at a
Chippendale-style strip show. He overhears a lady gush "It's not their
bodies, it's what they do with them" and decides that organizing a troupe
of male strippers is the ticket to financial stability. Unfortunately,
Gaz and his mates are light years from being buff, so they decide to
overcome their liabilities in the physique department by stripping down
to the full monty - - British slang for the works, which in this case
means total nudity.
"The Full Monty" is smoothly paced, blending comedy and pathos deftly to
create a breezy, enjoyable ride. The able cast takes a group of more-or-
less stock characters and makes them sympathetic and three-dimensional.
Carlyle is beguiling as the scrawny Gaz, an energetic soul desperate to
catch up on his support payments so he can continue spending time with
his son. Gaz's best pal is Dave (Mark Addy), a chubby fellow whose
insecurities have rendered him impotent.
The men recruit their former boss, the now unemployed Gerald (Tom
Wilkinson) because of his skills in ballroom dancing. A hilarious
sequence of auditions result in three more additions to the troupe; a red-
headed suicidal loner (Steve Huison), a 50 year old who can do the funky
chicken when his bad hip isn't acting up (Paul Barber), and cheerful,
skinny Guy (Hugo Speer), who can't dance a lick, but will happily display
his huge willy.
The men's financial and spiritual despair is crucial to "The Full Monty".
Not only does it humanize the characters, but it makes the comic scenes
even funnier, and make no mistake, "The Full Monty" is VERY funny. One of
the highlights of the film is a sequence set in the unemployment office.
While the glum men stand in line waiting to collect their checks, Donner
Summer's "Hot Stuff" begins to play on the radio. The guys try to ignore
it, but their toes begin tapping and, when the song hits a key passage,
they involuntarily thrust their pelvises forward in unison, just like in
Another great moment comes when a police officer happens on the men
rehearsing in their red leather G-strings and arrests several of them for
indecent exposure. In the police station, officers run a surveillance
tape showing the men's rehearsal and Gaz and Gerald immediately begin
critiquing their performances, ignoring the raucous laughter of the cops.
When the local newspaper prints the story of the arrests, the men's
secret plans become public knowledge and events swing towards a giddy
conclusion. Forced to be honest with their spouses and friends about the
planned performance, the men are mortified, but things take an unexpected
and charming turn.
"The Full Monty" is advertised as a comedy, but it is more than that. In
unassuming fashion, the film deals with love, pride and despair, body
shame, and the joy of abandoning inhibitions. The film also boasts a
strong sense of community. The citizens of Sheffield have all suffered in
varying degrees from the town's recession. Initially they scoff at the
men's absurd plans, but when the idea sinks in, moods begin to change.
The sheer audacity of the guys' idea strikes a chord with their neighbors.
When the big performance finally rolls around, it's extremely funny, but
not in any derisive fashion. The spectacle of the men prancing onstage
becomes an act of defiance, of liberation. Do the men actually show the
full monty? You'll have to wait and see, but it is safe to predict that
few people will leave the theater without broad smiles on their faces.
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott