The Full Monty May Go All the Way

It's extremely rare for low-budget foreign films to catch on with American audiences. Most that are lucky enough to get distribution in the States spend a few poorly attended weeks in the art houses, then quietly disappear. The Full Monty, a British film about a group of unemployed Sheffield steel workers putting together a "Chippendales"-type revue, has done just the opposite.

Made for $3.5 million, a relatively low sum in today's film industry, The Full Monty was released in the US with little publicity last summer, and since then has gained momentum almost entirely by word of mouth. Half a year later---an eternity in the entertainment business---it is still playing in theaters around the country. It will likely not be released into the rental market until it loses box-office steam---an event still in the distance.

The Full Monty has taken in $100 million internationally this year. It was the highest-grossing film in both Australia and the United Kingdom, and was hugely popular in Europe. To date, it has made $35 million in the US. Now, according to Fox Searchlight, the film's distributor, it is pretty sure to gain an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay, and possibly one for best picture.

All this was accomplished without big-name talent or a huge promotional budget. The Full Monty has neither a gut-churning soundtrack nor computer-aided visual effects. There are no heavy sex scenes, exploding buildings, car chases, gunfights, or monsters from beyond the grave. There's no "romantic interest," either. In other words, the film violates every established principle of success. In the process, it succeeds magnificently.

How? The Full Monty is a simple story about simple guys with a simple problem: they're broke and down on their luck, and they need to find a way out of a deadening life on the dole. One of them hits upon the idea of putting on a male strip show at a local pub, and with that, the tale is off and running.

The auditions and rehearsals are hilarious; these guys aren't dancers at all, as we quickly discover, just working men whose way of life has been "Thatcherized" almost out of existence. The bottomless self-doubt that threatens to scuttle their plans is both painful and endearing to watch. Ultimately, of course, they succeed, and by the film's end, we (and they) have learned some of the deeper meanings of success.

This film is doing so well because it speaks to widespread uncertainty in the age of downsizing, but does so in a way that is gentle, reassuring, and full of good humor. Like Kolya, another small film with a really huge heart, The Full Monty is about the triumph of the human spirit. That's a formula for success.