In the world of performing and stripping, you are only as valuable as the cash you bring in your trousers, speedo, or whatever you have around your waist. Going into Magic Mike, you should have this vague idea looming in your head, and not the assumption you’re going to be cinematically seduced by Channing Tatum’s impeccable charm and looks or Matthew McConaughey’s bulging biceps and cowboy uniform. Magic Mike is a film of depth and certainty; one of the more unexpected films to come out of 2012, a year where film has been relatively mixed. A year where I have yet to give a film a perfect rating.
It is common, and I suppose fair, as well, to ostracize Magic Mike as a “male stripper movie,” and one that will only appeal to women seeking out more of the lovable hunk Tatum. Part of this is true, but this is one of those films that is unfairly labeled by a cruel and falsifying simplification. In the film world, marketing is everything, and Magic Mike has been cheated out of showing what it is really about; humanity and substance.
We are greeted with the nineteen year old troublemaker, nicknamed “The Kid,” (Alex Pettyfer) who lost his football scholarship after a fight with the coach, begins living with his sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), and gets fired on the first day of his new construction job under the suspicion of thievery. He is given a ride by the title character (Tatum) after his car refuses to start, and the two men go clubbing, where they meet two local girls, one who just turned twenty-one. This is where Mike reveals to them, and “The Kid” (Adam) for that matter, that he is a male stripper, working several nights a week at a club called “Xquisite.”
Mike takes “The Kid” down to the club, where he is acquainted with all the dancers, including the boss, Dallas (McConaughey). After Mike and Dallas force “The Kid” on stage, they discover his dancing isn’t half bad and he is welcomed to perform with the other dancers on certain nights. We are then taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, integrity, and bad choices throughout the rest of the film, and discover that these men are not basic caricatures but facts of life.
Steven Soderbergh, one of the most prolific directors today, next to Woody Allen, lets the story build on its own and never overcompensates in a way that becomes too intuitive, gimmicky, or self-serving. He directs the picture sensitively and expertly, letting the choreography and the athleticism of the dance sequences be shown with full shots, and not the simple close-ups of characters. He shows the stage as a whole, the complexity of their routines, and the vast appreciation and acclaim from their female audience members. The rest of the picture is directed with a pleasant warmness, with a somewhat muted but sufficient color-pallet, making this one of the most artistic mainstream efforts of the year.
When Mike and Brooke begin to form a relationship, we continue to see Mike as a full character for the remainder of the picture. He is an aspiring entrepreneur, making unique furniture out of junkyard parts, and while he’s passionate about it, he recognizes that bread needs to be put on the table, and that stripping, at this point in time, seems like a valid option.
It’s no secret that the role of “Magic Mike” was written especially for Tatum, as he worked as a male stripper for a while during his adolescence, and the film is loosely centered on his experiences. He gives one of the most capable performances of the summer, and becomes invigorating to watch both on and off the stage. A huge rebound after the mediocre film The Vow But what really gives the film the high-octane energy it needs is when Soderbergh gives the characters on-stage and off-stage personalities, and never becomes too inclined to showcase frivolous romanticism between Mike and Brooke. It gives character traits to Magic Mike and Mike Lane, who are two very different people.
It’s depressing to believe that more than half of the revenue of Magic Mike‘s strong opening weekend is from women, when the film is satisfying for both genders equally. One thing the public can’t look past is vague stereotypes when it comes to films, and neglect to consider their depth and power as a whole. Sort of how Brokeback Mountain is routinely simplified as a “gay cowboy movie” and Shame, the “sex addiction movie.” This goes for the public as a broad whole, both male and female; the film does more than showcase the movement and dancing talents of relatively young men, but offers brave insight in the world of performing and stripping. Try and find those characteristics in something like Coyote Ugly.
NOTE: To add on to my statement about Coyote Ugly, it is interesting to note that both films were directed by males and did a meandering job of showcasing life on the stage and off, but Magic Mike is taken in the hands of a male director and screenwriter and does everything impressively. I’m waiting for a film about female strippers that is taken in the hands of a female director and screenwriter. Perhaps then we will get some faithful, satisfying commentary that goes beyond the easy trap of exploitation and misogyny.
Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, and Matthew McConaughey. Directed by: Steven Soderbergh.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!