{First/Second Take}[1997] The Full Monty

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film PostersLest you get the wrong idea, I’d like to start by saying comedy movies need not necessarily be artfully made. Stylistic filmmaking can distract from the tone a comedy screenplay requires. But I’d like a little creativity from time to time, and although The Full Monty has a number of amusing bits thanks to the winking performances from its actors, the camerawork was very still for a film revolving around choreography.

There are as many ways to make people laugh as there are methods of communication: body language, tone of voice, facial expression, music and sound effects; biting sarcasm, salty wit, acute satire; the unexpected and ironic, or obvious and deliberate; slapstick, vulgarities, and physical shtick… The list goes on and on, yet film is one of the few media capable of blending the desired selections from the full swath of tools to set a comedic tone. Not just The Full Monty, but seemingly the majority of comedy movies are afraid to move beyond over-the-shoulder shots and other static frames. TV shows and commercials nowadays have bolder filmmaking than studio productions. Before I get technical, let it be known that I’m writing this having recently watched this fantastic deconstruction of Edgar Wright’s comedic filmmaking style, which says everything I want to say more eloquently (and backs it up with clips).

If you don’t want to sit through all eight of its minutes, I’ll summarize the video: Edgar Wright makes inventive use of camera movement, framing, and sound editing to tell a story both comedically and cinematographically, in contrast to fellow Brit Peter Cattaneo’s The Full Monty. Granted, Cattaneo is going for a certain lighthearted realism and Wright is working within very heightened universes. But that doesn’t mean Cattaneo’s dance footage need be filmed in boring, unimaginative shots, particularly if the actors’ movements are supposed to be funny.  Perhaps jerky camera motions during the beginning of the choreography montage could give way to smoother, more flowy movements as the guys slowly learn how to strip in sync with one another. Or hopefully something better than that, I’m not a filmmaker. But the point remains.

In fairness, there were moments beyond the humorous dialogue and acting that left me grinning. Our protagonist spends much time spying on people over fences and through windows (something about envious, voyeuristic comparisons men make against each other and how that affects their perception of worthiness and manliness would be a whole other blog post), and some of those instances were well shot and edited. Particularly amusing and well framed were the guys spying on Tom Wilkinson’s character’s waltz lesson. And it goes without saying the final dance performance at the end of the film was a funny, suitable climax. Yet even the impromptu “Hot Stuff” dance waiting in line at the job centre, as funny as it was, could have been filmed with a little more panache.

It’s no wonder this movie was quickly adapted into a stage musical; much of it is simple, uncomplicated blocking with three walls surrounding the actors, who primarily dance shoulder-to-shoulder. There seems to be much more comedy available to be mined from this story, and you wouldn’t have to replace its reserved, dry Britishness with more American dick jokes, as a more up-to-date incarnation would no doubt attempt. Just a little more thought into making the presentation match the action and tone, and the movie would be elevated from an amusing diversion to an absurdist comedy.

Also, the entire time these grown adult men are stripping and practicing getting naked in front of one another and wearing banana hammocks, there’s a boy who appears about twelve years old forced to bear witness. From the inception of the production to the final performance, adults wag their penises at this child. And no one bats an eye. Just thought I’d make sure we all noticed that part, and didn’t gloss over it. Continue reading “{First/Second Take}[1997] The Full Monty”