Desperate times calls for desperate measures, so the adage goes. Peter Cattaneo’s little gem shows the results of this in a hilarious, sensitive, and extremely intelligent way. The great British comedy made a surprising splash in America in 1997 making more money than any low-budget foreign film before it and receiving four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture at a time when there were only five Best Picture nominees, and comedies were hardly ever nominated.
Beginning with an actual news reel video advertising Sheffield as an economic powerhouse in England because of its steel mining, the rest of the movie shows how much Sheffield changed in the 25 years after that news reel. The characters we get to know are all men who are unemployed, underemployed, trying to adjust after being released from jail, socially marginalized, suicidal, or some combination of these characteristics.
Only from a movie out England could a crew like this be part of a comedy, and a very funny one. These men don’t just come together to make money, though that is a need for all of them. Though they don’t realize this until the end, they come together to learn from each other what it means to be men. Whether because of the states of their marriages and families, their difficulties finding or keeping work, their sexual identity, or their self-esteem, each one of these men sees his manhood as in crisis. That’s what spawns their crazy scheme.
The movie never attempts to depict stripping as anything other than degrading, regardless of the gender doing it. Because the men find themselves seeking the desperate measures that many women before them have, they learn what it means to be judged by their physical characteristics, to experience body shamming as it’s now called, and how much more difficult it can be for women than for many men to learn to respect themselves.
A strange and beautiful thing about The Full Monty is that it’s a feminist movie with all male heroes. They’re heroes because they grow as people, they become men, and they learn to respect women out of the desperation they endure and the degradation they subject themselves to. But because they come together and reach this goal together, they are forced to give up self-centeredness and wrong ideas they had been clinging to about what it means to be a man. Their eventual victory over their difficult circumstance doesn’t happen because they’re chippendale dancers who go “the full monty” (complete nudity), but because they join together, they learn to put each other’s interests ahead of their own and to work together as a team. Their success happens because none of them does it for himself but for each other and for their families.
Having said that, The Full Monty is not only one of the funnies movies ever made but also one of the most inspiring. Dustin Hoffman said about his performance in Tootsie that it made him a better man because he learned what it meant to endure the many hardships that women do. All the actors in The Full Monty went through that same type of journey. It shows in the movie because the changes in the characters flow so naturally, because the laughs and the emotions are never forced but come as the result of bringing viewers in right in the middle of that journey. The Full Monty is a smart, joyous, delightful experience that encourages all of us to make sure our lives are filled with others who we empathize with, share life with, and grow with, others who make us better people.