Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Full Monty (1997)

The Full Monty came out ten years ago, and on its anniversary it’s been given a “Fully Exposed,” 2-DVD treatment. At the time it came out, the backlash hit me before the film did, and so I recall being less than impressed. It was probably the utter seriousness with which people approached the film—seriousness I read in the box office and the Oscar noms and everyone talking about it. The hype just couldn’t support a cute film about unemployed, naked steelworkers.

And that one-note joke, flavored with “new” slang we Americans could toss around, made it seem like tourism to me. Trainspotting had already hit, so we knew that we were supposed to like British movies, but this made them cuddly. I got the feeling everyone in the U.S. was taking in the nudity and the language and everything else with the sort of detached superiority which leads (in old novels, anyway) to proclamations of “oh, how quaint!”

Of course, I am now a snob with ten more years’ experience, and am able to enter the film again with reduced expectations and a better understanding of the filmic context. And this time, reminding myself that this was indeed a surprise hit, that the imitators came after, I really did enjoy it. We all know the story by now: out-of-work steelworkers, confronted with financial responsibilities and the popularity of the Chippendales, launch their own, Yorkshire-version male strip show. They’re thin, fat, pasty, old, and uncoordinated, but these plucky lads know how to make the best of things and confront their fears head on! To the film’s credit and my relief, the potential sentimentality is softened by the very real situation these guys are in, and the endearing characters who really do seem to have relationships. It doesn’t ignore the homoerotic aspects of what they’re doing, or the implications to masculinity of both unemployment and public nudity.

The one sour note, somewhat perversely in my opinion, is the score. I know it won an Oscar, but I found it to be far too jaunty. I’m not talking about the soundtrack itself, which was also very popular and is a lot of fun. No, I mean the weird, over-produced harmonica stuff that seems to be constantly telling us, “Hey, I know this is a movie about unemployment, but it’s a happy movie about unemployment!” The script does a fine job of walking the line between comedy and pathos. I don’t need a “lonely” harmonica cheerfully telling me that I shouldn’t be too upset by the goings-on on screen, because this is actually a light-hearted romp. I’m watching middle-aged pasty men strip, after all.

As for the new DVD set, I now know more than I ever needed to about The Full Monty. (Except, strangely enough, why the film is too cowardly to actually show the full monty.) The first disc has utterly pointless “deleted scenes,” which largely consist of alternate takes from various angles. Useful if you need to learn how utterly tedious filmmaking is, but adding nothing to our knowledge of characters or themes. The cast filmographies are nicely done with little interviews interspersed with information about their careers. But the bulk of the info is on the second disc, which has several featurettes (or one long one) that talk about the script, the hiring process, the making and subsequent popularity of the film, and why exactly the studio thought Americans wouldn’t understand the word “stone” as a unit of measure (back on the first disc, you can also watch the movie with its original, UK soundtrack. Seriously). Despite some questionable “artistic” touches in the filming of interviews and things, it’s quite well done, and many more movies deserve this kind of treatment. It’s a demonstration of what DVDs can be used for. I’m not entirely convinced I needed The Full Monty to go all the way, but it’s refreshing to see a little film get this kind of release.

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