Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Best Movies of My Life: The Full Monty (1997)

At the time of this writing, Kye and I own 167 films and TV series. The best of my life. Of those best, I rank only a handful as perfect 10s. The Full Monty is one of them.

The story centers around a group of unemployed men recently laid off from the steel mill they had devoted their lives to. They are cast adrift, increasingly broke and hopeless. "Gaz" (Gary) is more crushed than most, as his ex-wife is threatening full custody of their only child, a son, if he doesn't come up with child support, a lordly sum of seven hundred pounds. He is very close to Nathan, who loves him back but is growing intolerant of his money-making schemes. After surreptitiously watching Chippendale's dancers stripping to a bar packed full of women, one of whom is his best friend's wife, Gaz comes up with the lunatic idea that he and his mates should do a striptease. With a packed house, he'd easily come up with the child support money and have enough to spread around to his friends.

Robert Carlyle plays Gaz. It's the first role I ever watched him in. Carlyle, as I've mentioned before, is, in my opinion, one of the very best actors in the world today. As Gaz he plays a man fighting like hell both for his son and for his optimism, which has come under heavy siege. He comes across as naturally cheerful, an unrepentant opportunist, but one who, at the end of the day, seeks to do no harm, but finding himself increasingly crushed against that limit.

His mates have it rough too. Dave, his best friend, is fighting a losing battle with his sense of security. He worries his wife wants to have an affair (her attendance at the Chippendale's event doesn't help); he thinks his appearance (he's a bit round in the middle) is a straight turn-off; and so when Gaz approaches him about his crazy idea, laughs him off without a full hearing.

Gerald was a supervisor who hasn't told his wife that he too has been laid off, a lie that's gone on six months and counting. His wife, to my view, is a classic suburban shrew concerned about appearances and consuming; and he's terrified that he's going to lose both her and his "standing" should she find out. She's everything I find wrong with so many people, and so when I watch her (played beautifully by Deirdre Costello), I get instantly angry. She means no harm, ol' Linda, she'd tell you. She just wants what's hers, and that's that. No harm in that.

Gaz eventually convinces Gerald to teach him and the rest how to dance, having watched him ballroom dancing with Linda. The idea gets traction when, during auditions (done poignantly in an empty and cold room in the abandoned mill), he sees that not only can some dance, but are gifted in, ahem, other ways as well.

Standing in the dole line, Gaz watches his friends with amusement as Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" comes on over the radio.

It's not only a funny scene, but deeply touching. They're in a dole line, and they're dancing. The absurdity of it only adds to both the humor and the pathos.

Of course, there are numerous obstacles to surmount, including getting arrested for indecent exposure while rehearsing, an incident that has child services concerned for what Gaz is doing with, and to, his son. Gerald's wife gets wise and reveals her true character; Dave works hard at reducing his middle, going so far as plastic-wrapping it at night (while eating candy bars); and Gerald fights with his advancing age and the fact that he's worried that, being in front of a crowd of women, he won't be able to control what happens down south.

The others have their issues as well; I don't mean to minimize them here. Lomper's desperation leads him to attempt suicide; and his mother passes, only adding to his woes. Barrington, though he's nicknamed "Horse," apparently wants to increase his legend, but is having trouble with a newly acquired penis pump. We don't learn too much about Guy; but you get the sense that though still young, he's ready to give up completely.

Today, with tens of millions out of work, this film is even more relevant than is was in the late 90s. There are complex issues underlying every frame: an unfair and exploitative economic system that views human beings as cogs; consumption and overconsumption; self-esteem and self-respect and what they mean in a desolate and uncaring age; body-images issues (yes, men have them too, arguably as strongly as women in many instances); child custody issues; father-son relationships; guardianship; depression; impotence; homosexuality; and working-class culture. Life expectancy for white men in America (I don't know about Britain) is actually dropping despite incredible advances in medical science. Now the problems here and in Britain aren't entirely congruent or parallel, granted: here, white men are more willing to die than change their beliefs about core issues surrounding their roles in society, political leanings, and so forth. As a result, suicide among the demographic is skyrocketing. But you can easily make the translation from one culture to another without too much lost in the effort.

Capitalism, I'm convinced, is in its late stages, and is in fact beginning to consume itself. It's a form of cancer--an ideological cancer--that, if we don't take drastic action immediately, will end up destroying this planet, probably within the next few decades. Were people given a basic income each month that saw to their living expenses, the desperation seen in The Fully Monty, to cite just one of thousands of stories and films, wouldn't be necessary. Capitalism is a radical evil; it must go away. If it doesn't, we will. I am absolutely convinced of that.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, be it doing a striptease or revolting against an unjust, corrupt, and destructive system. One wonders what happened next with these fine men after the curtain drops and they get dressed and go home. They got their money, sure. But hardly a treasure chest's worth, hardly rent or a mortgage payment. Gaz got a payment for child support in time; but what about next month, and the month after that, or the ones after that?

In the late 1990s, few people bothered thinking that the system itself was wrong and should be changed no matter what the cost. Thankfully, today, more and more are waking up to the reality that if they want their children to have lives that aren't brutal, violent, short, and starving, the system--capitalism--must die. There are stirrings. For that reason, I'd not be averse to seeing a remake of The Full Monty. I'd like to think a modern-day Gaz wouldn't just get his mates to do a striptease for desperately needed cash, but would become a world-class agitator for change.