The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, UK, 1997)
Few comedies stand the test of time - but this one does
I always approach comedies that are older than a couple of years with caution. The risk that they'll stink is too big to be neglected. You'd better be prepared to grab your nose and run in the opposite direction. With a few exceptions, they age so fast. More than once have I revisited movies and TV series which I remember as hilarious, only to discover that they're not funny at all. On the contrary I'm often embarrassed to find them full of sexist and racist jokes, and I ask myself how I could have missed that. I guess we're more stuck in the conventions of our time than we want to admit to ourselves. It's just that we can't see them, until we get a certain distance to them in time.
Considering those experiences I hesitated for a second to get back to The Full Monty. This is a British comedy from 1997 about a bunch of unemployed guys in Sheffield. Inspired by the Chippendales, they put together a dance routine to perform for the ladies at a local club, mainly to earn a few bucks, since the situation is getting pretty desperate for some of them.
I watched it at the time it came out and I remember that I really loved it.
But one day fifteen years had passed, just like that, and suddenly I wasn't so sure anymore. Guys performing some kind of strip dancing, wasn't that pretty dated as a gag regarded, on par with "the balloon dance"? The taboo around nakedness or men doing "un-manly" things such as dancing isn't particularly strong anymore. And with the taboo gone, what's there left to laugh about?
The question was: did I really want to find out? Did I want to revisit The Full Monty and see how it had stood the test of time? Or should I leave it alone, as a nice and beloved memory of a movie I used to love?
When I found it on Netflix earlier this week I thought about it - for about two seconds. And then I decided to go for it.
This turned out to be the right decision. The film hadn't deteriorated a bit. If anything, it was even better than I remembered!
The mix between humor and drama is just so perfectly well balanced. You don't laugh at the men; you laugh with them. Or rather smile with them, because the humor is pretty low-key. But under the humor there's also a great deal of seriousness in it. Either they end up showing the "full monty" or not, they certainly dress off in front of the camera as human beings. We get to know them - and love them - with all their fragility, all their faults and weaknesses. And yes, I did tear up, more than once. And yet it never falls into the pit hole getting unbearably sentimental.
I guess you could call it a "feel good movie" in one sense, but since it's set in a gritty British working class setting, the limit is far lower than the sky. There's no simplistic message suggesting that anyone can become anything they want in their lives if they just make an effort. This is far more down-to-Earth and therefore much more convincing and inspiring than the fairy-tales they love to tell us on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
I have a hard time finding something negative to say about the film. I guess I could hold it against it that it it's unlikely that it would pass a Bechdel test. But again - I think it's understandable and defendable considering the topic.
The Full Monty gets my full appreciation - still standing strong after fifteen years. For a comedy that's pretty awesome.
My rating: 5/5