Film Review – Magic Mike
Magic Mike is the story Mike (Channing Tatum)—roofer by day, male stripper by night. He’s having a good time and saving for the day when he has enough money to quit his various jobs and focus on his true vocation: furniture making. On a construction site one day, he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old who’s got a bit of an attitude problem, but who seems to be a good kid. Mike takes Adam under his wing and introduces him to the wild and wonderful world of male stripping. They make money, meet lots of women, and have the kind of fun that only the young and unattached can have. But Mike is getting older, and what he wants to do with his life may conflict with how he’s living it. This is a movie about growing up and how hard that can be when you what you’ve already got in front of you seems pretty good.
This is a movie for grown-ups, and by grown-ups I do not mean 17-year-olds; I mean adults. There is sex, drugs, very suggestive dancing, and lots of waxed male butts. (And there are breasts—almost everybody’s getting down in this movie.) And it is all a tremendous amount of fun. The dance scenes are both titillating and hilarious, and there are plenty of them. Are the people in this movie objectified for the moviegoers’ enjoyment? Yes. Is it done in a knowing and humorous way? Also yes. Director Steven Soderbergh manages to walk a very delicate line with this one; it is very sexual without being sordid or nasty. (The bad kind of nasty. There’s a little bit of the good kind here.) The stereotypical things that people respond to as sexy are the same things that make us laugh in this movie, because of their cheesiness. Would this work if it were about women? I don’t know; I think it could, but it would take a director of Soderbergh’s talent to pull it off. But this movie is not for the timid; the second word of the film starts with an “F” and there is a bit involving Joe Manganiello that is very, very funny and more than a little shocking. Did I mention all the waxed body parts?
One of the things I liked best about this movie is the fact that everybody is having quite a bit of fun, and nobody gets punished for it. People do make bad decisions, and they have to deal with the consequences, but nobody is going to get it just because they are having a good time. Characters may or may not realize there is more to life than pleasure, but the fun times themselves are not going to doom them. Now, this film does strive to keep things light—this is not a gritty, realistic exposé of the male stripper lifestyle—and while that may make it a slight film, it also makes it very enjoyable. The heavy parts aren’t that heavy, but they are there and lift this film up from being just a fun exploitation flick.
There are two things that really kept this movie from being a home run for me. (I think that may be my first sports metaphor, by the way.) The first is that there are some pacing issues in the middle of the movie. It’s a little slow, but not so bad that I lost interest. The other is its relentless heterosexuality. We don’t get to know the other dancers very well, so I can’t say for sure that none of them were gay, but we don’t see any of it on screen. The story takes place in a hyper-sexualized environment where heterosexuality is constantly reinforced. Part of the humor of the film is having these very hetero characters be so comfortable with their sexuality that they can do things that might make other hetero men feel uncomfortable, which is kind of cool and part of the film’s charm. But, the strip club audiences are exclusively female, and the only male gazes they have to deal with are those of their supportive coworkers. Also, I just find it kind of unlikely that none of the dancers were gay. (I guess gay people don’t go into dance anymore?) I would have found it much more interesting if at least one of the dancers was gay and the other dancers saw him as no more of a threat to their sexuality than the other men. (To be specific, one of the actors is openly gay in real life; I just wish one of the characters was as well.) I get why the filmmakers made the decision not to complicate an already adventurous film, but I can want more in my heart of hearts.
I had a really good time with this film. Alex Pettyfer was a bit of a blank for me, but Channing Tatum has charm to spare. (He’s been a pleasant surprise to me as an actor. I thought 21 Jump Street was a nasty piece of misogyny, but I was really impressed with his comedic ability.) Matthew McConaughey is awesome as the super sleazy club owner Dallas, and Cody Horn is quite engaging as Adam’s sister. (For those who care, this film just barely passes the Bechdel test.) But this film is not for everyone; it addresses adult subjects very openly and without a ton of moralizing. Now, to the real question everyone is wondering about: can a straight man enjoy this movie? Yes. If you understand that looking at another man’s butt won’t make you gay, you might have a good time watching Magic Mike. It is very funny, and its purpose is to entertain, not arouse. I was hoping this would be fun, and was very happy to find that it was.
Final Grade: B+