Saturday, June 14, 2008

Full Frontal...Heart

I fell in love with The Full Monty in high school. It was an obsession amongst me and my group of friends. I believe it was the first British film I had ever seen (it was either this or Help!). It was certainly the most difficult to understand British film I had ever seen, speaking-wise, that is. The accents are crazy thick. I actually had the subtitles on when I watched it recently, and I discovered lots of things I never knew they were saying. Of course, what I learned only made me adore the film more.

The film is about six working-class British guys who are middle-aged and out of work in the fallen steel town of Sheffield. The group is led by Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and his best mate Dave (Mark Addy). Gaz is more immature than his pre-teen son, Nathan (William Snape), and he exposes Nathan to more than he should at his age. But, he loves Nathan and would do anything to find the money to pay his ex-wife to maintain visitation and custody. Hence, Gaz gets an idea, inspired by a Chippendales show in town, that he can strip, too. If those "puffs" can make that much money, why can't he? Don't women want to see regular guys, after all? So, he enlists Dave, Gerald Arthur Cooper (Tom Wilkinson), Horse (Paul Barber), Lomper (Steve Huison), and Guy (Hugo Speer) to be a part of his revue. It eventually turns into "the full monty," meaning totally nude and balls out (literally), because they have to offer women something the Chippendales don't.

What's great about these guys is that they're all down on their luck but totally lovable. They have idiosyncrasies, but they don't feel superficially tacked-on. Gaz is a womanizing ass, Dave is fat and fears that his wife Jean (Lesley Sharp) will leave him, Gerald is trying to maintain his upper-class lifestyle for his wife, as well as his social standing (Gerald is also the only one who has any sort of dance experience), Lomper is a weak, pasty introvert/band geek caring for his sickly mother, Horse has a know...and some sweet dance moves, but is insecure about his advanced age, and lone beefcake Guy...well, Guy's main problem is that he keeps trying to emulate Donald O'Connor in Singin' in the Rain and ends up slamming face first into the wall instead of walking UP it. They all need this gig and the money. We're just lucky enough to go along on their journey.

The Full Monty has always been one of my favorite films, ever since it came out in 1997. It's extra special to me because, among the many firsts it gave me, it introduced me to Tom Wilkinson. He's amazing as Gerald Arthur Cooper (a name my friends and I loved to randomly bust out in our best British working-class). Tom Wilkinson is, I think it's safe to say, known as a heavy actor, so it's wonderful to see him in just a totally light-hearted comedy. His trademark gravity is there, but it's mostly an exercise in exuberance (the same can be said about the whole movie). It's one of my favorite Wilkinson roles, and it'll always be very close to me. The rest of the actors are incredible, every single one of them, especially Carlyle and Addy (in more obvious ways since they're the leads), but also Speer, Huison, Barber, and Sharp in more-subtle-but-no-less important performances. Also, Snape is a remarkably impressive, naturalistic child actor.

I think The Full Monty paved the way for films like Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways, and Juno at the Oscars. The Full Monty was nominated for Best Picture (it didn't have a chance because of Titanic - nothing did), and I believe it was the first indie comedy to receive that honor, at least in the modern day, and the trend has continued ever since. Now, if only one of those films would win some day...

The Full Monty is an extraordinary film, masterfully directed by Peter Cattaneo, brilliantly written by Simon Beaufoy, and with an Oscar-winning jazzy score by Anne Dudley. It's hilarious with the hugest heart imaginable, a funny, touching balance of bleak realism and unabashed faith in the human spirit that I think only the Brits have managed to master. It has its melancholy moments, but that only makes the happy moments that much more rewarding. It's like the quote, the origin of which escapes me right now: "You can't have sweet without the sour." And the best part is that you're totally invested in these characters. You'll smile the whole way through, and it's a surprise until the last second. The ending will have you howling in delight. It was totally deserving of its Best Picture Oscar nomination.

The Full Monty is the feel-goodiest feel-good film I have ever seen in my life.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

1 comment:

Lisa Draski said...

I remember the origin of that "You can't have sweet without the sour" quote now. Jason Lee in Vanilla Sky. Score!