Sunday, July 1, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex..ual Politics -- Reflections on "Magic Mike" (2012)

It's okay to drool, ladies. We do it all the time.

During the first few minutes of Magic Mike, I did something I don’t usually do during a film.

I cheered.

Not for Matthew McConaughey’s chapless ass, but for Olivia Munn’s beautiful, freckled breasts.

And therein lies the irony. No doubt you think I’m a bit of a pervert for doing this, but would you have said the same for the hundreds of women in the theater who whooped and hollered through the opening scene, in which the previously mentioned McConaughey, as male stripper revue owner Dallas, lays down the law about what women can and can’t touch during the show? Personally, as amazing as Olivia Munn’s rack is – and it is as exquisite as advertised – I cheered more to see the reaction I would receive. And I got one. A few dirty looks from the women sitting around me (my girlfriend’s not being one of them).

Apparently, it’s okay for women to behave like animals in public, but not for men. I’m not looking to make a political statement here, just an observation from an admittedly small research sample. After all, women in our society are quite put upon, still, despite all of the efforts over the last 100+ years to obtain equality and fairness. We still live in a world where a woman with multiple sex partners is considered a slut, and a man with a similar number is considered a stud; where a woman with a small number is a prude, and man with a small number is honorable. And when you consider that the majority of Hollywood’s output is geared towards an adolescent mindset – more boobies, less cock – it seems only reasonable that women should loosen up and lose their shit a little for a tight ass, a ripped six-pack, and glistening pecs. Men are so used to the sight of tits on film that if we get unreasonably excited, there are only two possible reasons: 1) we don’t see many movies, or 2) we’re pervs.

The biggest reason I love Magic Mike is because it can get people talking about sexual politics like this. It gets us talking about it without being about it. The film is really a coming of age story about two men at different points in their journey, and what happens when their paths cross. It is more interested in showing us the world of male strippers than it is in making commentary about the women who go to such shows (although there are a few moments in which characters wax poetic about what a gift their stripping is for women, but these moments are played more as character moments and not like a thesis statement for the film as a whole). And the inside look we get of what it’s like to be a male stripper is fun, exciting, and revelatory.

The story focuses on Mike (Channing Tatum), a dreamer with a lot of side businesses all working towards achieving his big dream – starting his own furniture designing business. He’s one of those guys who was asked in high school by his counselor “What would you do if you never had to worry about money?” and he said, “Make one-of-a-kind furniture pieces on a beach.” Mike’s story takes flight when he meets a wayward youth named Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who once had a shot at playing college football, but screwed it up by being a hard-headed douchebag. Mike takes a liking to Adam and invites him into the world of male stripping, and after some initial trepidation, Adam becomes a stripper named The Kid, and starts making some money.

Most of the plot centers around Mike’s attempt to make his dreams come true while trying to protect Adam and woo Adam’s reticent sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). We are also privy to Adam’s rise and fall within the ranks of male dancing. This is all pretty standard movie plotting. Like I said earlier, the film is at its best when we’re dealing with the backstage world of the club. Mike’s relationship with Dallas (McConaughey) is compelling, and the film wisely leaves us to do a lot of figuring as to how these two became business partners.

McConaughey and Tatum are exceptional in this film. A lot has already been said and made of the fact that Tatum used to be a male stripper, and that he had a lot of input into the creation of the script. Regardless, he shines as Mike, creating a compelling, complex character his filmography hasn’t much hinted at. When he’s on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him – with career choices like this and 21 Jump Street, he has proven to be one of our more exciting young actors. McConaughey tears it up as Dallas, in limited screen time. He’s every bit as magnetic as Tatum, and owns the screen.

But, for as good as so much of the film is, it does fall apart in its last act. The movie’s at its best when it’s showing us the details of these men’s lives, both on and off the stage. But the moment that it tries to insert a tired drug deal storyline into the narrative, the energy is sort of sucked out of the room. Everything is tied up nicely at the end, and it does end on a lovely note, but getting there required a few lame detours that I’m not sure the film necessarily needed in order to generate a third act conflict. Fortunately, Tatum’s performance carries the film when it needs it most.

Despite its flaws, Magic Mike is a terrific movie, and probably one of those films that may not be a box office behemoth, but will be a pop culture talking point. After all, how often do we get a movie that packs a theater with more than 80% randy women, whooping delightfully at Channing Tatum’s pelvic thrusts?

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