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At Last, A Flick That Exploits The Male Body For A Change

By Stacey Richter

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  LATELY, THE MOVIES have been sending out the overt message that the sex industry is a lot of fun. Striptease and Show Girls gave us plucky heroines who bared it all in an expression of light, acceptable sexuality (and, in Striptease, in which Demi Moore plays a dancer trying to gain custody of her daughter, the interest of motherhood). Spike Lee's Girl 6 was a sort of Bildungsroman of a phone sex worker.

Okay, fine. Whatever. But why has this route to profit and self-discovery been ignored for the male gender? And more importantly, why haven't the ladies in the audience been treated to the sight of naked men strutting it on stage, vulnerable and cringing beneath the lustful gaze of an audience full of sex-starved chicks?

Ah, but now there's Full Monty, a fun, entertaining film about out-of-work steel workers trying to make a buck as male strippers.

Of course, Full Monty doesn't just serve up naked men--that would be too shocking. The movies, like our culture at large, support the idea that while men's desire to look at unclothed women is neat and normal and something to be indulged, women's desire to look at men's bodies is weak, scary, or non-existent. But Full Monty at least flirts with the idea that women like to look. The men undress slowly throughout the film, which is in itself a sort of prolonged striptease.

But despite a certain level of coyness, Full Monty begins to do something movies have rarely dared to do: It addresses the issue of female desire for men, not as husbands or providers or boyfriends, but as hunks of meat. Okay, so some of these guys are a little ragged around the edges, but that only made it more charming.

Full Monty begins with an optimistic, '70s tourism film advertising the wonders of the town of Sheffield--a booming English metropolis built around the steel industry. Slums have been cleared, we're told by a deep-voiced narrator, to make way for modern, concrete high rises. There's a soccer team playing in a world-class stadium. Women in Quiana wrap dresses and guys in bell bottoms do the hustle in the discos. "Steel workers work hard, and they play hard!"

Cut to Sheffield 25 years later. The town still plays hard, but most people aren't working since the steel mills have closed. Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and Dave (Mark Addy), a pair of out-of-work steel workers, are rummaging through a closed factory for salvage, accompanied by Gaz's sweet little son, who is embarrassed by the whole venture. These guys are down and out, clearly. But a chance encounter with a Chippendale's troupe making money hand over fist at a nearby bar gives Gaz the bright idea to start his own band of strippers. It's a little contrived, yes, but Full Monty is a comedy, and a little exaggeration has to be swallowed.

Gaz slowly gathers a motley group of losers. He and Dave discover one future dancer in mid suicide-attempt in his car (he's having mechanical difficulties, and Dave helps him get it started); they have an audition and get a couple of guys there. Between the dancing and recruiting sessions, the guys go to Job Club--dismal classes given by the state to help the steel workers find employment--and pretend to work on their résumés. There they pick up their former boss, the only one of the group who actually knows how to dance.

Some of the comedy in this movie is pretty obvious (really, jokes about the size of a black man's penis?); but some has a sly wit and goofy spirit that carries it along at a swift pace. The guys get a video of Flashdance to check out the dancing and end up being more interested in Jennifer Beal's welding. When one of the songs they've been practicing to comes on over the radio in line at the employment agency, the men start unconsciously doing little dance moves in unison.

"Full Monty" we're told in the credits, is a British phrase that roughly translates to "going all the way." Gaz figures that since his crew of dancers aren't exactly Chippendale's guys, they need an extra nugget of material to offer the ladies. So they advertise their willingness to do the "full Monty"--to take it all off, g-strings included. Is this a chance to witness male full frontal nudity? Ah, you'll have to see for yourself.

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