Magic Mike

Steven Soderbergh is responsible for many of my favorite films (i.e. Traffic, Contagion, the Ocean’s Eleven films); and I’m pleased to say that this auteur pleased me with his latest film, Magic Mike (a relief after being so disappointed by Woody Allen’s latest outing). For those expecting a campy romp with male strippers (as many of the previews and hype would have you believe), you’ll have to look elsewhere. The serious tones set in the film have been off-putting for many viewers, but I would expect no less from Soderbergh.

We’re introduced to the Tampa strip club Xquisite in the opening scene, where the owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) presents “the rules” for the audience. The scene then cuts to a bedroom, and Channing Tatum’s bare ass is on display for all to see (followed shortly by Olivia Munn’s breasts). Nudity quickly becomes the norm—not that I’m complaining—and the actors are very comfortable in their bodies (even Alex Pettyfer’s Adam seems more comfortable when he shrugs off that hoodie).

The main story arc of the film involves Tatum’s titular Mike introducing Adam to the world of male stripping as a way to make some money. Adam is a wayward boy (he’s ten years younger than Mike, although the actors look much closer in age), and he relies too heavily on Mike’s kindness. His kindness is extra generous because Mike is also trying to win over the affection of Adam’s sister Brooke (played by Cody Horn and her perpetually pursed lips).

Soderbergh intercuts strip scenes from the club with the plot development of the film in the same way that Cabaret jumps between the Kit Kat Klub and the characters’ lives outside of it. They are very exciting performances by the actors who all seem to have easily taken to the stage. Tatum’s natural skills on the stage are reminiscent of his Step Up days (and also his former life as a stripper), but he brings more than just his moves to this role. He embodies this character who refers to himself as an entrepreneur but is really just a regular guy who has lost sight of his American dream.

There is a gritty realness to this world of stripping, and Adam learns that the hard way. His descent into drug use is not unexpected but it does lack some originality (although it greatly affect what happens with Mike—and his choices at the end of the film could make for an interesting paper topic). Even the understated dialogue brought alive the film and the character. Mike’s fumbling and stuttering when arguing with Brooke is how someone would actually fight in real life (not with perfectly crafted arguments and retorts).

Magic Mike is not a “fun” film. It strikes a fine balance between the campiness of Burlesque—Mike and Dallas have a very similar relationship to Ali (Christina Aguilera) and Tess (Cher)—and the gritty filth of the world of Boogie Nights. Watching the film with that mindset, you can appreciate the artistic choices made in the film.

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  1. To Rome with Love « The JK Review

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