movie review by Mark Leeper
out-of-work Sheffield steelworkers try Chippendales style
stripping to make money in spite of lacking strippers' physiques.
Combining elements of THE COMMITMENTS and BRASSED OFF! this film
treads what is now overly familiar territory, but there is always room
for a film with good human drama and a few laughs.
Rating: 7 (0 to 10)
New York Critics: 14 positive, 1 negative, 3 mixed
Sheffield, England, in the early 1970s had an economy a strong as the steel it produced, as a public relations documentary under the credits tells us. But this is twenty-five years later and the mills have closed. The people who planned to work in the mills the rest of their lives are on the dole and scratching to find subsistence jobs. Gaz (played by Robert Carlyle--the weird Begbie of Trainspotting) has lost his wife and son to another man, mostly because he cannot provide for them. He has only tenuous visiting rights with his son, Nathan (William Snape) but pushes the law and has his son as a nearly constant companion. Gaz does have an idea how to make a little money. When the Chippendales male strippers play in town they pack a local rented hall. If they can make money so easily, perhaps Gaz and his friend Dave (Mark Addy) can put on the same sort of a show.
The problem is that the people he can get on the stage to strip are incredibly ordinary-looking people, not the Chippendales sort of hunks. And they dance worse than they look. With more reluctant pluck than looks and talent put together a group of six men including their old foreman Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) and Horse, an aging black drifter with a bad hip but who can teach them the moves. (How they assemble this troop while still keeping their plans secret is not really clear.) But the question is why would women who have seen Chippendales be willing to pay to see such losers strip? Gaz thinks that if they go the "full monty," baring all, that that will give them the edge. The idea seems doomed from the start. If they cannot make a living at what they were good at, how can they expect to be cocky enough to entertain an audience stripping, particularly looking so ordinary, this one skinny, that one out of shape, another one over the hill.
The Full Montymanages to be about a lot of things and work on several levels. In part it is about the sad state of much of the British economy and the effects, obvious and subtle, of unemployment, broken dreams, and failure on the community. Sheffield is city where the balance of power between the men and the women has been destroyed by so many of the men's inability to earn a living. Gerald, the former boss of Gaz and Dave has spent six months maintaining a ruse for his wife that he still has his job. When he can no longer provide luxuries his wife wants the marriage breaks apart. We are led to assume something similar has happened to Gaz's marriage well before the action of the story. The film is also about how closely tied is Dave's self- image to his ability to earn a living. In fact the most touching personal relationship in the film is Dave's with his wife.
This is a cast that will seem to most American audiences to be unknowns. Robert Carlyle of course is from Trainspotting. Curiously he is the lead, but his performance is not one of the better ones of the film. For me the performances I will remember will be Mark Addy's Dave and Tom Wilkinson's Gerald. It is these people pushed to the point of desperation and for whom the audience generates the most sympathy. Tom Wilkinson of Sense and Sensibilityand The Ghost and the Darknesswould seem to be the most secure of the three and yet he has the fewest options and clearly feels it. Sadly we do not see very much of Horse, played by Paul Barber. In some ways his is the most enigmatic character and the film could have used more story about him.
The only serious problem with The Full Montyis that it is our third or fourth film about the sad state of the economy in the English hinterlands. This film reminds one a bit too much of Brassed Off! And having a brass band making the best of a bad situation in an early scene may be an unfortunate coincidence. But a comedy-drama with good characters is always worth seeing. Listen sharply to pierce the thick accents. I give this a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.
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