A number of critics have denigrated the Bechdel Test and not without good reason. As previously addressed, it’s a funny punchline from a 1980s comic strip that serves as an absurdly ineffective litmus test. In most cases this is due to the pathetically low bar it sets. Yet, in others cases, passing the test would in no way serve the story, much less the feminist movement. And, despite what the media might have us believe, a film that fails the Bechdel Test might very well be feminist-friendly.
One such example is The Full Monty. The Full Monty is about, to quote IMDB, “six unemployed steel workers [who] form a male striptease act. The women cheer them on to go for ‘the full monty’ – total nudity.”
What’s unusual about this film is that it features a male-driven story that focuses on subject matter ordinarily confined to female-driven films. All laid off from work, the male protagonists have little agency, unable to provide for themselves, much less their children, and through the course of the story, reveal their abundant insecurities, including body image issues and inferiority complexes, especially in the context of their relationships with women.
What’s unusual about this film is that it features a male-driven story that focuses on subject matter ordinarily confined to female-driven films.
The women, as if in some bizarre Twilight Zone twist of fate, hold all of the agency: confidence, solvency, independence, power. After losing his wife to another man, the protagonist Gaz (played beautifully by Robert Carlyle) subsequently loses joint custody of their son and is forced to accept a loan from his ex in order to fund his striptease show (for which he nearly loses the confidence to perform, intimidated to disrobe in front of a packed house of clothed women).
Dave, played by the lovable Mark Addy, elicits a similar sympathy proffered iconic rom-com heroines like Bridget Jones when he sits, half-naked, wrapped in cellophane to sweat off extra pounds, while simultaneously taking comfort in an elicit chocolate bar.
The women, as if in some bizarre Twilight Zone twist of fate, hold all of the agency: confidence, solvency, independence, power.
The men buy new clothes, undergo a makeover and try to improve themselves to win the admiration of the women in their lives. They share their feelings, nurture each other, form a family, and Gaz learns to become a better parent. In short, they embody what are generally considered feminine traits: submission, sensitivity, vulnerability and even maternal ‘drives.’
So, the fact that no two of the minor female characters engage in any discussion that does not revolve around the men becomes a moot point. The story universalizes circumstances generally associated with a familiar female experience in a patriarchal society and therefore gives greater voice to women’s issues, or more significantly human issues, than any paltry exchange of non-male related dialogue ever could.
In short, they embody what are generally considered feminine traits: submission, sensitivity, vulnerability and even maternal ‘drives.’
That’s not to say, however, that the Bechdel Test might be used as a useful tool. Next up, a missed opportunity in a beloved film with a devoted following that doesn’t but could have passed the test in a small way that might have rendered it even more beloved…
A former ballerina turned filmmaker, published fiction author and part-time film academic, Devi Snively is a proud alumnus of American Films Institute’s (AFI) Directing Workshop for Women and invited participant to the 2017 inaugural AFI/Fox Studios Bridge program. Her films have screened at over 500 festivals worldwide, garnering awards, distribution and critical acclaim.