THE FULL MONTY Director: Peter Cattaneo Starring: Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson (15)

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The Independent Culture
There are roughly equal doses of grit and whimsy in this lovely comedy about a group of unemployed ex-steelworkers who decide to form Sheffield's very own version of the Chippendales, promising to give the audience what their baby-oiled American counterparts can't: everything, the works, the full monty. The director, Peter Cattaneo, seizes upon the bristling, thrilling incongruities in Simon Beaufoy's screenplay and emphasises them so that the whole thing feels like an exercise in illustrating that nothing is quite what it seems.

Though there are few female characters in the film, the male/female relationships are shot through with authenticity right from the start, where Gaz (Robert Carlyle) hides out in a toilet stall in the club which has been ruled "women only" for Chippendales night, and watches with trepidation at the women swearing and larking about at the urinal. The scenes between Gaz's pal Dave (Mark Addy) and Dave's wife (Lesley Sharp) are also sensitively played, as Dave frets about his impotence and whether or not he's well- endowed. There aren't many films which manage to show male characters feeling insecure in their masculinity without ridiculing them. But that's the beauty of The Full Monty - it keeps surprising you. It finds comedy in territories variously claimed by Joe Orton or Alan Bleasdale, but it doesn't stint on dramatic weight - a hundred Hollywood depictions of parental relationships couldn't come close to matching the poignancy of Gaz's encounters with his young son.

The picture functions as an ensemble piece, with the various clashes in personality producing some sparky and often touching playing. The scene early on when Gaz has an argument with a smart man at the Job Club suddenly gathers unexpected emotional resonance when we discover that the man, played by Tom Wilkinson, used to be Gaz's boss until redundancy made them both equal in the eyes of the DSS. Unlikely as it may seem, the former boss joins Gaz's troupe, and as you watch their old relationship gradually disappear, you are struck by the immense care and delicacy of Beaufoy's writing, which takes its time in depicting the evolution of friendship, and doesn't trip over itself in an effort to reach hasty resolutions.

If the words "male bonding" have been conspicuous by their absence from this assessment, then it should perhaps be noted that The Full Monty finds a way of handling this tired subject without pretending that women don't figure in the equation.