Going into this, I was really hoping to present to you the most absurd, obscene, magical ladies’ night double feature of all time. Magic Mike and Magic Mike XXL, hopefully soon to be joined by Magic Mike: Magnum or something equally as crude.
What I got instead was a lesson in “direction matters,” and “here’s what the same movie without Steven Soderbergh looks like.”
So, here’s a film I love, along with a film I had to stop five times during viewing because I just CAN’T EVEN with its bad jokes and creepy whipped cream gags. But seriously – that first one? It’s good.
Magic Mike (2012)
Mike? I think we should be best friends.
I saw Magic Mike in a Round Lake, Illinois Regal Cinemas at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday. The theater was not empty like my usual weekday matinee (I love going to see movies alone, and I love when it’s just me and my own private screen – and under $10), but almost entirely full and very, very loud. The audience was majority women, seemingly over the age of thirty-five, sitting in groups of four or more. It was like every lady in the area took their office lunch “out” for the day.
First, everyone talked through the previews.
There was a buzzing sort of excitement in the air I associated with midnight showings and waiting for the latest edition of Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings.
Then came the movie. People interacted with it. They whistled at it, yelled at it, squealed at parts I bet you can guess. I felt very alone, and also very much not alone. I don’t always feel united with an audience, and I especially don’t always feel united with groups of women I don’t know. This day, I was simultaneously observing these women, and feeling ferociously happy right along with them.
It didn’t hurt that the movie about male strippers we were watching was also a piece of soft-spoken, beautifully photographed art.
What strikes me most about Magic Mike is how dismal the actual dancing is.
No one besides Channing Tatum has any hope of really dancing at any time, and that’s essentially the point. Because if you’ve ever been witness to an “All Male Revue” (it was a mistake I am probably not going to make again – probably), then you know that’s the truth; “Dancing” is not what these shows are about. The strippers in Magic Mike are bulky, a little clunky, and the whole show has an air of “outdated” emanating from it. Solidified by its Tampa Bay, Florida setting, everything about Magic Mike is mediocre at best. Inland. Humid. Close to Disneyworld, but not too close. Florida, but not glamorous south Florida. Exactly the life Mike is trying to fight against.
Magic Mike has a particularly observant shot style.
Like all great Soderbergh movies (Sex, Lies and Videotape, The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Side Effects, to name a few), the camera is a direct extension of the person directing it. By this, I mean that the camera is given an inherently human quality, always a little lower to the ground, often looking up, and sometimes from strange angles. It reminds me a lot of Yasujiro Ozu, whose style low-to-the-ground vantage points is now simply called an “Ozu Shot.” Soderbergh’s observational, handheld style makes a similar impression – as though you are there in the room, too, only none of the characters notice your presence. He makes his audience voyeurs. How effective when Magic Mike is screening to a room full of women waiting to watch its characters take off their clothes for a room full of women? We’re super voyeurs. They’re super exhibitionists. It’s all very meta.
(Notice the way McConaughey and the DJ are watching – men are always watching and judging other men in this movie.)
The script is sparse, and directed by anyone else (see Magic Mike XXL), would perhaps be wooden, awkward, or silly. In combination with the voyeuristic/exhibitionist camera work, it plays as authentic, even painfully honest. None of these characters is particularly smart. None of them really has to be.
The women in the theater were there to see Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey take off their clothes.
They both do that. What they were maybe not there to see, was Channing Tatum’s Mike walk into a bank and get rejected for a loan. Or get taken advantage of by someone he counted as a friend, and pay $10,000 of his savings to bail him out. Definitely not to dream about designing custom furniture he salvaged from the beach.
Everything that happens in Magic Mike is a little bit banal. And those parts of the film left the ladies in the theater with me quiet. A bit awkward, actually, waiting for the parts we had all come to see.
Me, I was very happy with the awkward bits. I didn’t mind the body parts, either, but it was the combination of the two that left me feeling like this was a stellar, vulgar, obtuse, and importantly blunt film. It was a movie about the recession, and about economics. It was a movie about how we objectify people for money and power. It was a movie for women to enjoy without too much complication. In service of that idea, it was mostly a movie about how men and traditional masculinity are slipping. The men of Magic Mike are oblivious to the world outside of their hyper-masculine stage. Mike is thrust out of it. He ends the film at the door of a girl he likes, asking to be reconsidered.
I thought it was adorable. I also think it’s really poignant.
Alex Pettyfer (Adam) has quite a night out with Mike and ends it by jumping with him into the bay. When they both resurface, he tells Mike, “I think we should be best friends.” Mike hesitantly agrees. This encapsulates that awkward, brutal honesty the movie gets so right – who says this to someone? It’s something we attribute to little girls in children’s movies, not hulking male strippers in their mid to late twenties. But it’s heartbreaking, because you know they both need it.
Brooke is all of us watching Channing Tatum do the Pony dance. All of us.
There is a shot with a penis in a penis pump. It’s weird. Not as brilliant, however, as the shot of Joe Manganiello’s face while he uses the penis pump. That is awkward, uncomfortable, and lasts an awfully long time.
Mike leaving the club before the end of the show, intercut with McConaughey’s dance. McConaughey’s Dallas is so self-important, so egregiously image obsessed, his own act is potentially laughable. Yet, the way the women throw down cash and their own bodies at his, you might not notice. Meanwhile, Mike drives to Brooke’s, the camera watching him from the floor while he cries. HE CRIES.
And that, my friends, would have been the end of a fucking stellar movie review.
But then, there was this:
Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Tomorrow, we start the pilgrimage to Myrtle Beach for the convention!
Which I will dignify with just a few notes.
- Soderbergh didn’t direct this, so I can’t blame it on him.
- But he did shoot it under his cinematographer’s pseudonym Peter Andrews, so I can blame it on him.
- Nobody did any kind of responsible draft work on this script – and it needed it. Very few movies need to be two hours long. This isn’t one of them.
- The stripping in this film brought me little to no joy, and in fact at times made me so uncomfortable, I had to stop the movie and do something else for a while. I don’t want to watch Donald Glover take off his clothes (sorry, Donald). And I don’t want to watch women be sprayed in the face with a can of whipped cream, pretending it wasn’t oddly violent, or at the very least, totally sexless.
- Plot points. Plot points, plot points, plot points. This movie cares so much about wrapping up its predecessor’s plot points that it answers questions nobody would ever have asked, like, why did Dallas ask you to dance like a Sailor, Tito? And Ken, what was your Disneyworld audition song? Meanwhile, I can’t get a straight answer as to why anybody still hangs out with drug dealing Tobias who fucked over Mike in the first movie. UGH.
- Last, but definitely not least, XXL spends so much time developing character that it becomes NOT a movie for women to ogle men (which was, honestly, the point), NOT a think piece about archetypes, gender politics, and economics (like the first), and 100% a buddy road trip movie best suited for the bros in a pretty lame fraternity.
So, to sum up – don’t. Just don’t.
But do enjoy #1 in the comfort of you own home.
If You Like it (#1!), Watch:
Urban Cowboy (1980): Ok, I like this one, and I like late 70s/early 80s John Travolta. If you do, too, then you will not be disappointed with Saturday Night Fever in a Texas country bar. He dances well. It’s got Debra Winger. Go judge somewhere else, this is #chickflickfebruary.
Flashdance (1983): This is probably the best movie about strippers, all be it female strippers, because Jennifer Beals and her coworkers are doing some of the most avant-garde stripping I’ve ever seen. Points for creativity and a little respect for their career choices. Also, the scene with the lobster.
Coyote Ugly (2000): I’m going to watch this later in the month, but I want to point it out now because I think what Magic Mike XXL is trying to do is this. Coyote Ugly objectifies its women but still (tries) to give them strong personalities. Whether it succeeds or fails is up to you – but I can tell you that XXL did not measure up.
Want in on the February Challenge?
Start with the first post – All That Jazz is a Chick Flick.
Check out previous picks, like Saturday’s Jersey Girl.
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