THE FULL MONTY Starring: Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy, Steve Huis on, Paul Barber, Hugo Speer. Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy. Director: Peter Cattaneo. Watching the most infectious comic moment in the British import The Full Monty - a film rich with infectious comic moments - can teach you a lot about what so many Hollywood comedies get so wrong. The scene is set in a Yorkshire unemployment office where the film's six protagonists, laid-off steelworkers in training to become male exotic dancers, are waiting for their bi-weekly dole cheques. As the office radio begins playing Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff," the men begin swaying unconsciously to the beat, eventually easing into their bump-and-grind choreography for the song.
It's a wonderful bit of comic film-making by director Peter Cattaneo, surprisingly restrained and staged with impeccable momentum and timing. It also comes in a context which gives the laughter more bite. The main characters in The Full Monty are frustrated and emasculated by their unemployment: divorced Gaz (Robert Carlyle) faces losing joint custody of his son for non-payment of child support; overweight Dave (Mark Addy) is rendered impotent by his feelings of physical and economic inadequacy; middle-manager Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) is so shamed that he still hasn't told his wife of his sacking six months after the fact. Their spontaneous burst of energy in that dole queue is a physical manifestation of optimism. They " re trying something to become men again, by God, even if it's as ridiculous a notion as dropping trou - or going "the full monty" in Brit-speak - in front of 400 howling women.
Now I'm not saying it isn't worth several chuckles simply watching the out-of-shape mates muddle their way through their pirouettes and pelvic thrusts; incongruity is the mother of classic physical comedy. I'm willing to wager however, that a Hollywood ized version of The Full Monty would miss the point entirely. In this hypothetical American Monty, the idea of six working-class blokes becoming strippers, none of them ideal physical specimens, would be treated as inherently hilarious. It would become a broad farce, with Chris Farley re-creating his "Saturday Night Live" sketch challenging Patrick Swayze for a spot in the Chippendale's line-up.
The Full Monty isn't an effective comedy because the stars are unattractive. It's an effective comedy because the characters are attractive, because their dilemma is genuine and their solution is ripe with possibilities. Ironically, the most noteworthy flaws in The Full Monty might have been erased by a good old Hollywood script doctoring. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy dangles a few too many plot threads for no apparent reason, including a gay romance which never matters much to the story. Dramatic confrontations interfere with the comedic flow, as though Beaufoy didn't trust the performances and basic plot situations to generate enough sympathy for his characters. Though not nearly as pedantic as the similarly-themed Biassed Off! , The Full Monty still treads dangerously close to pathos at times, clashing with the lads' growing enthusiasm for their new calling.
The Full Monty may be a high-concept premise, but the execution is resolutely low-concept. That's a combination Hollywood is having a tough time putting together in its comedies. Comedy with ideas doesn't have to be leaden; comedy with big laughs doesn't have to be simple-minded. The Full Monty gives depth to dole-line disco... that's high comedy.