Magic Mike was perhaps one of the strangest films to come out in 2012. Marketed primarily at women, with its glistening hard bodied cast, big pecs, big packages, thrusting its way through the ad breaks of day time tv, it also garnered the interest of many well established and quite esteemed film critics, for many different reasons, mainly positive, which I will look at later. Unusually for a film of this nature, it has caused a bit of an uproar in the film buff community. It seemed on paper a write off, a flimsy, exploitation flick designed to get women to spend their hard-earned cash to gawk at five nearly naked men for two hours. At the risk of sounding like a douchebag, I’d like to think that I’m slightly above this. I wouldn’t go and see a film just because it’s got naked men in it. I don’t particularly find it titillating but most of all, why would I waste my money on literally just seeing fleshy beefcake men take their kit off? The marketing of Magic Mike is poor at best, it’s not a film about five men who take their clothes off, it’s slightly more than that. Granted, it is a tried and tested Hollywood trope of ‘all that glitters is not gold’ from Steven Soderbergh. But if the advertising had focused on the story, I would have perhaps seen it a bit sooner.
Magic Mike is semi-autobiographical, based on Channing Tatum’s experience as a stripper, our lead, Adam, played by Alex Pettyfer, has just left school and is in a new construction job where he meets Mike, Channing Tatum, who convinces him to start stripping at Xquisite, an all male strip bar owned by Dallas, superbly played by Matthew McCoughnahey. Adam starts to revel in the stripper lifestyle, parties, drugs and women eventually culminate in a close-call drug overdose episode. Underpinning all this is Mike’s desire to leave stripping and start a custom furniture design business, however he is unable to obtain the financial backing from the bank that he needs, so is resigned to stay in the business.
There’s quite a lot going on in Magic Mike, it’s reasonable to say that perhaps this wasn’t the expectation of many. I’m by no means saying that Magic Mike is revolutionary in terms of its portrayal of what is a very familiar story. But it surprised me how dark and engaging it became. Perhaps this is my film snobbery rearing its head, but I really wasn’t expecting much. Steven Soderbergh really has an eye for magnifying the lives of extraordinary people. Especially when those lives are a bit seedy, desperate and a bit tragic. It shines a light on the allure of the world of stripping. It holds a mirror up to society and basically says ‘if someone told you that you were good at taking your clothes off, you’d definitely do it for money, screw your morals’. It’s hedonism at its most bare and Soderbergh doesn’t shy away from showing exactly how one gets caught in that downward spiral. He does suggest that stripping and drugs are intrinsically linked, and it is unavoidably inevitable that as a result of embracing stripping, Adam will ultimately succumb to that lifestyle.
Mixed with the darker side, are moments of genuine loveliness. Mike takes a shine to Adam’s sister, Brooke. Their growing romance is side-tracked by Adam’s behaviour, and Mike’s inability to keep his promise to Brooke to look after him. The relationships are complex, involving complex people. The one flaw is the lack of characterisation of the other strippers. We actually have a fairly well-known cast behind Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, but we don’t really ever see them (aside from a fairly explicit penis pump scene) outside of stripping. Perhaps the film isn’t big enough for the lives of five male strippers. But this does allow focus on our main characters, allowing for a greater sense of personality and story. Channing Tatum is fast becoming one of my favourite actors. Not only can he dance (and boy, CAN HE DANCE) but his performances are believable and engaging. He’s exceptionally charismatic and appears to effortlessly throw himself into the roles he takes. It’s a bit of the ‘Brad Pitt’ syndrome. Initially hired as a bit of on-screen fluff, and is now one of the most respected actors in cinema today, and I could regret this, but I think Tatum is well on his way to becoming a highly respected, very talented actor who is more than just his good looks and legion of girl-fans.
Magic Mike is a thoroughly enjoyable film, perhaps slightly more targeted to women, with dancing/stripping montages which are solely there for spectating. But if this isn’t your bag, there is enough of a story and involving characters to keep the less beefcake-inclined audiences interested. Magic Mike certainly deserves the post-exhibition praise it got, away from poor marketing, it makes a well-worn trope of Hollywood fresh and exciting.
The Literary Omnivore – review
Geek of Critique – review
Manila Pop! – commentary on gender/sexuality in Magic Mike
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