Given the sad state of our economy, THE FULL MONTY should resonate more deeply now with viewers than it did upon its initial theatrical release in 1997, a year marked by booming economic prosperity due to the dot-com bubble. It’s a movie that speaks of mankind’s resiliency in the face of despair and the ingenuity we are capable of to overcome it. THE FULL MONTY also happens to be a dry-humored, heart warming comedy about a bunch of unemployed blue collar Brits desperate enough to strip their clothes off to make some money. Interestingly enough, the film is also a sort of tribute to female empowerment in the sense that these men strip dance to cater to a female clientele and their livelihood becomes entirely dependent on their patronage.

THE FULL MONTY became an indie sensation with American audiences. The idea of having a bunch of unsightly looking regular joes stripping it all off was an enticing premise for many people. Its funny how big-budget Hollywood films with hot stars playing strippers bombed during that period (i.e. STRIPTEASE and SHOWGIRLS), but a small British film from across the pond managed to beat them all. THE FULL MONTY takes place in the depressed industrial town of Sheffield, a once-thriving steel town that has fallen victim to international competition and industrial collapse. Unable to find jobs and living basically off welfare, six unemployed guys (Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Steve Huison, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Barber, and Hugo Speer) decide to put on a stripshow for the town’s ladies after seeing the success of a recent visit by the Chippendales. There is one problem: None of the guys knows how to dance and none have the kind of body a woman would masturbate over.

This film is all about the climax. Everything leads up to the final show where the guys finally bare all. You know they’re going to do it because there is no way this movie would be so successful if they didn’t and besides, what kind of sick fuck would string their audience along toward the end only to NOT show the goods? However, although the ultimate strip dance is what makes you watch the movie, what makes it good is the strong characters who make up the six leads. As I said before, THE FULL MONTY resonates stronger with today’s audiences than it did 13 years ago. You can relate to the characters’ desperation to find a job and support their families and themselves. It doesn’t take long to identify with their plight and root for them. Whats more, Simon Beaufoy, the writer of this film (he also wrote SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE), does a wonderful job developing likeable characters who are funny and the type of people you would want to drink with. They are all self-deprecating in various degrees and that lends to their likeability and our ability to identify with them.

A few of the actors stood out more than the others, particularly Tom Wilkinson. Since THE FULL MONTY’S release, Wilkinson has been a constant welcoming presence in Hollywood. I regard him as one of the best character actors working in the business and that’s clearly evidenced by the many roles he’s played since THE FULL MONTY’S release. Here, he plays the older, guiding mentor for the group. As he is the only one who possesses any sort of formal training in dance, he takes to leading the motley group. As with all the characters, Wilkinson’s character has a back story that relates to the financial hardship the townsfolk are suffering. His character has been unemployed for 6 months and he’s too afraid to tell his wife, who continues to spend their money and maintain her expensive taste.

Much of the success of this film derives from the huge stakes each character has in making the strip show work. They all have a LOT to lose, the least of which is the little respect they have in the community. Despite needing the money to survive, some give up job opportunities so that they can prepare for the show. In the real world, this would be nothing short of being absolutely foolish, but in the movie world, its inspirational and something to root for.

Something I have always appreciated among the British is their capacity to find humor in the most depressing of circumstances. Maybe the hardships they endured during the WWII air raids and earlier historical struggles have toughened these people and allowed them to treat hardship with a sense of humor. I don’t know. What I do know is that this translates in a dry wit that is unparalleled anywhere else. An American version of this movie would not treat a scene where a person tries to commit suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning as humorous. That’s just something the British can do very well.

THE FULL MONTY is a modern British classic and although some aspects of it have not aged well over the years, the film maintains its originality and appeal. It’s a feel good movie that’s virtually impossible to not enjoy.

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