"Sheffield, the jewel in England's industrial crown," says the enthusiastic narrator in the corny promotional film, circa 1970, that opens The Full Monty. Scene after scene shows prosperity and progress for this northern city. "Thanks to steel," he concludes, "Sheffield really is a city on the move!" Twenty- ive years later, the steel mill and the men who once worked in it have come to a grinding halt.
Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and Dave (Mark Addy) visit the abandoned mill, along with Gaz's reluctant and embarrassed 9-year-old son. They're there to "liberate" a rusty beam and pick up some cash, but in a depressingly comic pattern that seems quite familiar to these long-unemployed steelworkers, everything goes wrong. They end up back where they were -- playing cards at the government-sponsored "job club" with few prospects and little hope -- slightly bent out of shape but still unbroken.
Written by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Peter Cattaneo, The Full Monty is a clever, spirited comedy about bleak times. It's also a sly look at shifting gender roles, specifically how changes in both the economy and women's expectations affect these working-class men, who feel as extinct as dinosaurs.
After the Chippendale dancers, a troupe of foxy Englishmen, visit Sheffield to screaming adoration and big profits, Gaz enlists a group of financially desperate men to form the homegrown, Yorkshire version. Needless to say, these male strippers -- dubbed Hot Metal -- are far from ideal, ranging from the pasty to the overweight to the rhythmically challenged. But they are willing to do the professionals one better: they will go "the full monty," that is, completely naked.
Unlike Brassed Off, which blends humor and pathos with righteous indignation, The Full Monty is a straight-ahead comedy about surviving by adapting to changing times.
The superb ensemble cast members (who fill out some of the sketchier characters) and Cattaneo's buoyant pace keep things from ever becoming maudlin or condescending, and the humor comes from clever juxtapositions.
Eventually this film manages to make truly comic sense out of the steelworkers in their transformation. Who else, when watching a videotape of Flashdance to pick up some new moves for their strip routine, would stop to critique Jennifer Beals' welding?
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.