How do you tackle a topic such as unemployment? It's not exactly the kind of thing people really like to think about, and ultimately, we watch things to escape from reality, not enhance it. However, it's not a topic that should not be ignored, either. It's currently one of most significant economic and social issues in the UK, and despite the rate of unemployment staying steady at around 5 percent during the second half of 2016, this still leaves 1.66 million people jobless.
The Full Monty was released in 1997, so you may be asking yourself: What possible relevance does an 18-year-old comedy film have to do with today's issue of unemployment? The impact of what we watch on our perception of the world is immeasurable — just consider how much film and television influences your own cultural perspective. Telling a truly engaging story about the unemployed could potentially have a real social and cultural impact. So, how does The Full Monty tackle (if you'll pardon the pun) the subject of the unemployed and why does it matter today?
Comedy And Relatability
Unemployment is a serious subject, so you would expect it to presented in a serious way, but The Full Monty heavily utilizes comedy to present its subject matter. It's because of this approach that the film's relatability and impact is significant. Setting the film in a working-class city like Sheffield could have made it too specific — the colloquialisms could have alienated viewers from other walks of life and other parts of the world.
In fact, it does the opposite — by given the characters a real sense of identity it connects them to the place they live and the circumstances they're in. The film is filled with moments that cause us to look beyond the characters as simply, "the unemployed." One such scene is when the main characters are standing in a line at the Job Center when Donna Summer's Hot Stuff starts playing. The characters then start dancing to the music while standing in line and, frankly, it's hysterical:
Now, the scene could have been presented in a way that highlighted the bleakness of the Job Center, with a grey filter and no background noise, presenting the men in line as being treated like faulty products on an assembly line. Instead, by using humor, we see them as people. The dancing brings them to life, and all of a sudden the scene becomes about the characters and their situation rather than just the situation itself. A potentially forgettable scene becomes an iconic cinematic moment. We see these unemployed men as the individuals they really are and how treating them as just another unemployed face in the crowd only removes the empathy we might feel towards them.
The comedy isn't there to just make you remember the entertaining moments; though, it also highlights the real moments of their struggle through a contrast of tone. One of the most poignant examples of this is following Gerald's (Tom Wilkinson) interview. He confronts Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and Dave (Mark Addy) after they caused him to ruin his chances. Gerald then gives a furious rant about the significance the interview held, the responsibility he feels to provide for his wife (who he has kept his unemployment secret from) and the struggle he's been going through for months to obtain that one interview. Gaz and Dave's visual reactions add to the emotion; they empathize with his struggle, and so do we as a fellow viewer.
Seeing a grown man break down over his lack of purpose is a powerful image. The tearful sentences of "How can I tell I tell 'er?" and "It was my job, it had to be my job!" shows that Gerald doesn't keep the secret out of misplaced pride, but out of a sense of responsibility. This leads me on to the film's next major thematic strand.
Diversity Within Masculinity
You may be thinking that a film that focuses solely on the unemployment is anything but diverse. However, The Full Monty portrays masculinity in a variety of forms that hold as much relevance today as it did 18 years ago. The film touches on racial and age stereotypes through the character of Barrington "Horse" Mitchell (Paul Barber). Seeing him energetically audition for the strip group and hearing gags about his — err, shall we say — less than equine endowment, challenges our expectation of him. It also addresses issues involving male body image and self-esteem with subplots involving Horse, Dave and Gerald.
Additionally, it approaches the subject of homosexuality and homophobia. The characters of Gaz and Dave both use language such as "queer" and "poofter" extensively. However, when the film introduces a developing relationship between Lomper (Steve Huison) and Guy (Hugo Speer), they do not treat them any differently. Furthermore, the film never makes their relationship anything more than something they happen to be doing — their homosexuality is not even remotely integral to their personality. For a film released in 1997 to take an approach to gay characters that could be regarded as progressive — even by today's standards — shows just one part of The Full Monty's continued cultural significance.
Most significantly though, the area of masculinity that the film explores most extensively is the role of men as providers. I've already mentioned how Gerald feels a responsibility to provide for his wife and his decision to hide his unemployment out of shame. However, the film's entire plot is launched by Gaz's need to pay child support for his son, Nathan (William Snape). Owing this money is the reason for the strip group to be started.
What is interesting, however, is how the film highlights the pressures of being expected to provide for your family as a male. While Gaz is unemployed, he is prevented from seeing his son by the Mother, Mandy (Emily Woof). Without the financial support his role as a father is obsolete and the emotional relationship he has with his son is secondary to his ability to pay his share, despite his mother being more affluent. Even after divorce and redundancy, he is expected to be a breadwinner.
This commentary on the role of a father is highlighted even further later in the film. After a policeman catches the group rehearsing the strip tease for a group of women related to Horse, Gaz is told to stay away from Nathan (who was present at the rehearsal) as he is deemed to be a pervert (obviously not the legal term). The view that men are primarily there to provide is so engrained that the first conclusion made about the situation was one of sexual deviancy, not parental bonding. Gaz is expected to keep himself at an emotional arm's length from his son until he can pay his child support and conform to what people expect of a father's behavior.
So Why Does 'The Full Monty' Matter Today?
At the top of this article I spoke about the continued issue of mass unemployment and I have also gone on to talk about how The Full Monty represents masculinity in regards to being a provider. 18 years later, the problem of men out of work is as prevalent than ever. Between 1971 and 2010, UK unemployment among men rose by 16 percent, in contrast to a fall of 12 percent for women. From 1997 to 2010, despite an improvement in between, the unemployment rate for men increased by 4 percent. A trend largely caused by the financial crisis of 2008, we are still feeling the impact of that now in 2016.
The reason The Full Monty matters as much as ever is because the purpose of a man is as lost now as it was in 1997, perhaps even more so. The attitude that men are a provider of resources first and emotional support second is still the dominant one. This isn't to say that one role is not equal to the other, but with so many men out of employment they will continue to feel as purposeless and devalued as the characters do in this film. That's why The Full Monty is still so relevant. The impact it had in 1997 can be continued today, and a story with characters that makes us empathize can change attitudes and provide support for those that feel marginalised. So even if the economic struggles continue, perhaps a film like The Full Monty can help the emotional struggle to progress.
What did you think of The Full Monty?