While there was a lot of interest in Magic Mike before it was released in cinemas, I don’t think many people suspected that this $7 million budgeted movie would pull in over $100 million at the US box office, or get quite so many people so excited. There’s little doubt much of the interest in the film is that while women are routinely sexualised in cinemas, its rarer for a film to come along that offers the girls and gay guys something to get hot under the collar about, with male characters unabashedly served up for their sexual delectation.
It certainly worked. I have a friend who never goes to the cinema. Literally never. But she went to see Magic Mike twice.
However it’s not just about the guys parading around in G-strings, as it has a plot and themes that delve deeper than you might expect. Mike (Channing Tatum) sees himself as an entrepreneur with a finger in all sorts of different pies. He’s also a stripper – the main act at Xquisite, where women go to watch guys become their sexual fantasy.
One of Mike’s other job is working construction and it’s there he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer). After the 19-year-old asks Mike to help get him into a nightclub, he discovers that his older friend is actually there trying to get women to the strip club. Adam follows Mike to Xquisite, promised a bit of cash for helping get the girls to the club, but unexpectedly ends up poppy his stripping cherry. Soon he’s hired and club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) wants to train the youngster up as one of the new star attractions.
While the lure of money and sex is strong, Adam also gets involved in the always-available drugs, and begins to lose himself in the stripper lifestyle. Mike meanwhile is keen to start up a bespoke furniture business, but nobody wants to lend him the money as they see him as a credit risk. He also begins to fall for Adam’s straight-laced sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), who isn’t that impressed with her brother’s new career. While Mike keeps telling Brooke about all of his grand plans, she can’t help but wonder why he keeps stripping in his 30s and is even planning to move with the troupe from Tampa to Miami (where he’s been promised equity).
Magic Mike is a surprisingly delicate balancing act. On the one hand it’s a crowd-pleaser that’s here to serve up the man-flesh and tell a fairly typical tale of being seduced by a life of sex and drugs. However it’s also a bit of an arthouse drama, that wants to bring a more realistic vibe to these ideas, and also to talk about things such as the economy and the difference between how we see ourselves and the way the world sees us – and how that can be different depending on the situation.
It ensures the film has plenty to offer, so that one minute your eyes are popping out as Channing Tatum shows off his incredible dance moves and pecs (and boy that man can really dance – there was no double used at any point) and the next the film asks you to think about the netherworld he lives in, partway between businessman and carefree playboy.
It helps a lot that Steven Soderbergh brings his grounded style to the film. Although his love of natural lighting and muted filters sometimes makes his films look a little murky (although it allows him to work incredibly quickly), it also has the effect of making things seem a lot more real. Coupled with dialogue that often seems improvised, it rarely feels like you’re being sold something false or glamorised. That goes for the stripping too.
Normally in films, as soon as there’s a dance or musical number, the lighting is suddenly perfect, everyone looks like they’ve been dancing since they burst out of the womb and things happen on stage that you’d never see in real life (Jennifer Beals may have famously been soaked with water while stripping in Flashdance, but can you imagine that ever having happened like that is a real strip club – the audience would have gotten soaked?). In Magic Mike, things aren’t like that, and indeed it’s sexier because it’s more real. There’s often an imperfect edge to the dancing, little happens that wouldn’t in a real strip club and rather than zooming around pointlessly, the camera makes you a spectator to the rip-away pants, swivelling hips and be-thonged grinding.
These scenes are indeed hot and heavy, and there are plenty of them, but once they’ve been set up with an initial ‘It’s Raining Men’ group number, they’re generally there to serve the plot. It’s also true that despite the dancing and little stories in many of the strip scenes (cowboy, fireman, Ken doll), many will find the sexiest one to be Adam’s first, where he’s thrown on stage and takes off his clothes without any clue as to what he’s doing.
The performances are pretty good too. While you’d expect a film like this just to try and get by on the looks of its cast, they nearly all put in good work. Tatum is great as Mike, who thinks he’s the master of his own little universe but starts to realise that the rest of the world might not see him that way. As for Alex Pettyfer, I’ve never really liked him in anything else I’ve seen him in, but here he shows a sense of humour (and an uncanny Arnie impression) and spontaneity that we haven’t really seen before. To be honest the likes of Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer and Alex Rodriguez don’t have a vast amount to do, but who’s going to complain when they spend most of their scenes gyrating with few clothes on? The only bum note is Cody Horn’s Brooke, who is the straight-laced voice of reason, but often comes across as such a stick in the mud you wonder why Mike is so attracted to her.
The real scene stealer though is Matthew McConaughey, who chews the scenery (in the best of ways) as club owner Dallas, a man whose laidback charm hides a ruthless streak. McConaughey is obviously having a whale of a time and it shows.
One thing a lot of people will have a problem with is the end, as while there is a conclusion, there’s a slight sense that the movie has just stopped. While some things are sorted out and there’s the sense of the next chapter in an endless cycle having started, a lot of things are left hanging. Admittedly real life does tend to be like that, but it’s slightly frustrating in a movie like this. Indeed I did wonder whether more happened in the original script and Soderbergh decided to simplify things, leaving us with a movie that has only half an ending.
It’s not perfect and I have a feeling some people might find the plot a little dull, especially as the characters’ motivations and desires aren’t clear cut and easily identifiable. However if you fancy a bit of man-candy, the movie certainly delivers.
Some people have got rather irate about the film, claiming that it’s hypocrisy to complain about the objectification of women and then say it’s fine if it’s done to men in this film. However there’s a difference, as this isn’t objectifying any of the characters. With objectification it’s not purely about sexualising something, it’s dehumanising somebody so that their existence in a film, book or indeed in real life is purely about fulfilling male desire and fantasies (e.g. Megan Fox in Transformers). Arguments against objectification don’t necessarily say women (and men) can’t be sexy and sexual, just that they ought to be people at the same time. Essentially Magic Mike makes that point but with men.
These guys go on stage to fulfil the audience’s fantasies (both in the club and in the cinema or on DVD), but the film is about the fact they’re people too, who are both lost in and trying to be more than just who they are on stage. If Magic Mike had solely turned these men into toys for female and gay eyes, it would be fair to argue reverse sexism, but that would be to deliberately ignore the movie itself.
Indeed there’s a character called Joanna (the wonderful Olivia Munn), who starts out for Mike as a booty call fulfiller of his fantasies, happy to show up for a threesome with another woman. He initially doesn’t seem that interested in who she is, but as he learns about her, yearning for some sort of deeper connection, the realisation that she’s an intelligent, complex woman with a life of her own makes him reassess what they’ve been doing. Indeed if there’s one overriding theme in Magic Mike, it’s the difficulties of the boxes and different types of objectification we like to place people and ourselves in, whether sexual, emotional, economical or personal, which rarely give us the full picture.
However those railing against the perceived reverse sexism and objectification of men will probably think the DVD special features prove their point, as they focus on the stripping. There are extended dance scenes, including Matt Bomer’s full Ken doll routine, Adam Rodriguez as a sailor boy and Joe Manganiello as a golden statue. There’s also a mode that removes all the plot from the movie and just presents the stripping scenes. Finally you get a featurette looking at how the dances were put together. Admittedly these features would seem designed to suggest Magic Mike is just about the most exploitative look at man-candy imaginable, but hey, enjoy.
Yes, the film is titillating – after all, neither men or women need to be asexual or pretend that don’t like a bit of flesh (assuming they do) – but there’s more than that to Magic Mike.
Overall Verdict: It may have its flaws, but there’s a surprisingly complex film trying to get out of Magic Mike. It never quite emerges, with characters sometimes being unclear and the ending a little abrupt, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Plus the copious stripping scenes are certain to keep a lot of people entertained, whether they like the plot or not.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac