The Full Monty (1997)

What's so funny about men taking their clothes off? Women taking their clothes off isn't funny, although recent movies on the subject (*Showgirls*, *Striptease*) have been laughably bad. Why should it be any different when the strippers are male?

It shouldn't, and that's really what makes *The Full Monty* such a delightful and winning movie. The men in *The Full Monty*, a ragtag group of unemployed steelworkers in Sheffield, England, are already stripped of their pride and dignity by life on the dole. Conceived as a plan to make quick cash, stripping unexpectedly becomes a means of empowerment and liberation for these blue collar blokes, a way to recover their manhood by, of all things, baring their manhood. They've got nothing to hide because they've got nothing to lose.

Led by Gaz (Robert Carlyle), who gets the idea when he sneaks into a Chippendales show, each of the men has his own desperate reasons for this most desperate measure. Gaz is about to lose custody of his son Nathan (William Snape), unless he can come up with child-support; Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), the lads' former supervisor, can't bear to tell his free-spending wife that he lost his job six months earlier, even when the repo men are knocking at the door. Lomper (Steve Huison) is depressed and suicidal, a lonely security guard watching an idle steel plant; Horse (Paul Barber) has a bad hip; Guy (Hugo Speer) is without means and without talent, although he is apparently spectacularly well-endowed; chubby Dave (Mark Addy) is impotent, racked with insecurity and feeling unlovable because of his ample love handles. Each man feels obsolete, emasculated and exposed -- with the comical logic of the desperate, they conclude that they, like the buff, well-oiled Chippendales, have what it takes to drive the employed women of Sheffield into a money-throwing frenzy.

One major source of comedy in *The Full Monty* is that the men are not traditional beefcake types (as they no doubt will be in the Hollywood remake of this movie). Pasty and flabby, they are absurdly bad dancers as well. Guy fancies himself another Donald O'Connor, but his footwork is more fanciful than fancy. Horse, a bit on the old side as exotic dancers go, can manage naught but the funky chicken these days, and as for the rest, the rhythm kings they are not. With young Nathan watching in horror, they attempt, with comical gravity, to put together their Hot Metal Revue, rehearsing to old disco tunes in the last place where they felt like real men: the abandoned steel mill where they were once employed. They have little to offer but their willingness to bare all, and there's some doubt in the ranks about the wisdom of that.

Written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Peter Cattaneo, *The Full Monty* (Brit slang for butt-naked) is surprisingly heartfelt and sincere, a comedy tinged with real melancholy. The laughs are not really at the expense of these downtrodden blokes -- they're laughing themselves, after all, through the tears. But even while the g-string men are prancing about in ludicrous imitation of exotic dancers, this comic gem never loses sight of what brought them to this unlikely juncture -- the socioeconomic realities of modern-day England, which relegated them all to the scrap heap. Once the nuts and bolts of their working class town, now they're just the nuts, and rusty ones at that. In that context, their baring endeavor is a triumph over a failed economic system, unexpectedly liberating and, shall we say, uplifting.

The fine performances by Carlyle (best known as the psychotic Begbie in *Trainspotting*), Wilkinson, and Addy, in the three central roles, really reveal the not-so-quiet desperation of these working stiffs, and give *The Full Monty* its tragicomic edge. Despite the absurd circumstances in which they frequently find themselves, the characters in *The Full Monty* always ring true as more than the sum of their quirks, foibles and troubles. They bare their souls, and when the curtain finally goes up on their performance, it is an exhilarating moment of drama, comedy and relief as they bare something that, it turns out, is far less revealing.