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The Full Monty

July 21, 2017

The Full Monty (1997)
Director: Peter Cattaneo
Actors: Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Tom Wilkinson

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Synopsis: A group of unemployed Sheffield men join forces in the unlikeliest of ways – as a male striptease act – to raise enough money so one of their tribe, Gaz (Robert Carlyle), can afford his child support payments.

Review: For such an uncomplicated – and, in some respects, prototypical – film, The Full Monty stands the test of time because it is superior sentimental social commentary executed to a T. Following in the tradition of more “upmarket” British cinematic exports of a loosely similar bent like the Ealing Comedies or the films of Ken Loach, The Full Monty carries beneath its feelgood trajectory an exquisite air of gallows humour mixed with a dash of melancholy and a wee sprinkling of empathetic leftist politics.

The inclusion of the opening Sheffield promotional film, City on the Move, ironically sets up the juxtaposition between the Steel City’s pomp and the depressed, slate-grey canvas of its present which is the crucial backdrop to the story. Director Peter Cattaneo takes other opportunities to characterise the post-industrial moribundity of Sheffield by having the hapless protagonists bemoan their lot at numerous vantage points in the city’s steep streets and parks that showcase the bleak urban panorama around them.

Amid this omnipresent dankness, the spirit of the motley crew of would-be strippers necessarily lightens the tone. The two performances which, in particular, give life to the story are those of Tom Wilkinson and Mark Addy. This was the film that gave Wilkinson a deserved late shunt into the limelight. His depiction of the buttoned-up, nominally middle-class Gerald – who has been living a charade for the last six months (getting suited to go to “work” each day to appease his aspirational wife, when in reality he’s simply been making unsuccessful sorties to the local job centre) – is a masterclass of strangulated male pride. Addy’s portrayal of happy-go-lucky “fat” lad, Dave, is equally superb. Addy absolutely nails his one liners, especially in a sequence where he undercuts the optimism of his fellow strippers during a tanning session in Gerald’s house. And the slightly treacly subplot of Dave having body image issues on the eve of the show (surely a phlegmatic boozer like him would have reconciled himself to his rotund state?) works, through the extremely well acted scenes between Addy and Lesley Sharp (playing Dave’s wife).

Even if The Full Monty‘s mammoth success set in motion an era of mainstream, calculatingly populist ‘feelgood’ fare that to some extent still exists today (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel anyone?), its skill as a film deserves as much remembrance as its place as a significant British cinematic pop cultural reference point. (July 2017)

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