Movies of 1997 Bracket Game: Chasing Amy vs The Full Monty
Today we’ve got a matchup of two…sexy indie comedies…sort of. By the late nineties the role of sex in feature films had gone through some discernible changes. While a little gratuitous nudity and some suggestive situations were key elements in many mainstream films of the eighties, the advent of home video (and then the internet) had made filmmakers and studios begin to think differently. If a horny teenager could get ahold of actual pornography to watch at home, why would the random appearance of naked breasts in what is otherwise a stupid “coming of age” comedy or action thriller be a worthwhile draw? The effects of the AIDS crisis could also continue to be felt, as sex was less often trivialized and exploited, but talked about with a lot more specificity. The growth of the indie movie market in particular helped fill this niche. Audiences of the nineties could pretty easily see something a little sexy in their movies while still ostensibly getting a bit of substance. Many times this was 100% true, but other times there really was just the thinnest veneer of respectability laid over what was only a rental come-on. Whether this was any kind of improvement will be a matter of taste, but in 1999 American Pie certainly proved that there was still a market for the wild teen sex comedy. Personally, I like the idea of there being a little of both.
We had another relatively close race, but Mike Myers’ Austin Powers eventually outshot Grosse Pointe Blank to advance to meet up with Liar Liar in the next round. We’re staying with comedy, but going indie/art house now.
Writer/director Kevin Smith had taken his own swing at the teen sex comedy with his second feature-lengthed outing Mallrats in 1995. The movie had been considered a major disappointment by many in the indie community who had appreciated his initial release Clerks for its DiY aesthetic and street-level point of view. Although the first film had undeniably been made by relative amateurs, there was an authenticity and cleverness present that landed very solidly with young adults of Smith’s generation, many of who felt stuck in “McJobs” or were having a hard time transitioning into adulthood. The unashamedly higher budget take on the only slightly adjacent world of Mallrats left many of Smith’s fans feeling immediately sold out and betrayed (this would not be the last time by a long shot). But it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Even Roger Ebert had thought Smith was joking when he announced that he would follow marching orders from the studios as long as they paid to make his movies. In retrospect, the more surprising move was in making the quantum leap which was Chasing Amy. This time around, Smith appeared to really have a personal story to tell (perhaps because he had based it in part on his girlfriend who just so happened to be the star of the film Joey Lauren Adams), while integrating his talent for ragged fanboy humor and dialogue in ways which were meaningful to the plot and characters. I was enthusiastic enough about this evident growth that I saw the movie twice in the movie theater and even bought the movie poster. The poster was later replaced both because Smith never really met this level of quality again and because a girlfriend pointed out that I had previously dated someone named Amy (a fact that had somehow never occurred to me).
What made The Full Monty an art house-adjacent movie rather than just another silly comedy leaning on a semi-salacious premise? Was it mainly because it was British? Well…maybe, but it should also be kept in mind that the movie also contains some genuine pathos and character development and some genuinely funny scenes that have nothing to do with the big “payoff” the movie’s title is promising. The real life concerns covered in the script and the honest ways in which they were addressed impressed critics and audiences, resulting in both strong performance at the box office and during awards season. The Full Monty was popular enough in its native United Kingdom, in fact, that it was the top earner there for most of the year until Titanic was released in December and started breaking records. The good will extended across the pond, leading to several Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. Although Robert Carlyle was definitely the lead and the best known actor at the time due to his appearances in movies like Trainspotting and Priest, his overall profile has never really amped up following an appearance as a Bond villain. The same cannot be said for the less likely star Tom Wilkinson, who was in the process of becoming one of the most preeminent supporting actors in the business, garnering Oscar nominations for both In the Bedroom and Michael Clayton and appearing in high profile movies like The Patriot and Batman Begins. My personal favorite films of his include Shakespeare in Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
While these are both good representatives of 1997 for those of us who were attending movie theaters enthusiastically at the time, it will be interesting to see if one or the other has had a more lasting place in people’s hearts. Weigh in by voting here and commenting below!