This past weekend my daughter and I watched Calendar Girls, a 2003 British film about a group of middle-aged Yorkshire village women who decide to raise money for charity by producing an “artistic” nude calendar. I found it pleasantly entertaining and funny until about the two-thirds mark, when the movie lost its way. It began as a heartwarming story about a group of likable women who come to grips with aging and death by learning to embrace life, only to turn into some sort of Faustian tale about the temptations and repercussions of fame. It was no longer funny, or pleasant, but squirmishly uncomfortable, and I found myself wandering out to do laundry, get some tea, whatever, until the final, low key but gently-pleasing denouement.
But when you’re a writer, even a less-than-perfect book or movie can have something to teach you. In hitting Le Google to see if the move was, indeed, based on a true story (it was), I found this gem by critic Derek Elley. Elley praises the film for its gentle and likeable (“if sometimes dramatically wobbly”) spirit, and notes almost in passing the film’s lack of a “big Full Monty-like finale to send audiences buzzing into the streets.”
And I thought, Wow. The Full Monty Moment. Is there any better phrase to describe a pitch-perfect ending that provides both a satisfying finale and an uplifting rush?
The Full Monty is a great story about a group of unemployed steelworkers who rediscover their self-confidence and self-respect by putting on a male strip show. Its masterful screenplay almost never wobbles, and certainly never forgets its theme. And when those guys finally go out on stage, when we watch them successfully pull off (no pun intended) what once looked like a joke and see them smiling and full of confidence, the moment is magic. One can easily imagine theatre audiences spilling into the streets, as Elley notes, all abuzz with the experience (buzz is good; it sells movie tickets and books).
Of course, not every tale contains such a pleasantly uplifting moment within it. Some stories are dark and depressing and require a different sort of moment entirely. And some tales are simply inherently wobbly and gentle, and leave you with a warm glow rather than a rush. In thinking back on Calendar Girls, I’m not sure one could really fault the screenwriter for either the movie's unevenness or its lack of a “Full Monty Moment.” If there was another way to tell that story, I don’t see it. The truth is, some story ideas are basically flawed; even in the hands of a master, they will never produce a truly grand product. Does that mean those stories should never be told? Not necessarily. Despite its shortcomings, Calendar Girls was enjoyable and heartwarming (and profitable—that’s important). If the filmmakers had canned their project when they realized it didn’t a have a “Full Monty Moment,” they would have been making a mistake.
But I do love that phrase and the concept it encapsulates. It’s something for a writer to keep in mind when considering a story idea: “Does this story contain within it the potential for a grand Full Monty Moment?”