Thursday, 12 July 2012

Magic Mike (2012)

Over on the cineaste cesspool known as IMDB, several gentlemen are shedding salt tears to the sound of the world's smallest violin.

"I feel this movie proves how Talent is no longer an necessity, but just how good you look."

"Making a choice to go is simply a matter of wanting to see more beautiful naked men, sensationalizing it, and shoving it in men's faces... most men really don't have a choice in this."

"I feel that this movie was an attack on men."

And my personal favorite, "A film about a male stripper teaching a younger guy how to pick up women!!! You must be joking!!" (No joke, christoperbkk.This is really happening right in your backyard.)

Sensitive guys, take a journey with me now down Memory Lane.

The Blue Angel, 1930.
Gilda, 1946.
Gypsy, 1962.
Flashdance, 1983.
Showgirls, 1995.
Striptease, 1996.

Coyote Ugly, 2000.
Grindhouse, 2007.
Burlesque, 2010.
Remember all the controversy these films ignited? No? Me neither!

Saddened, violining gentlemen: there is a movie about male strippers in theatres (breathe, this has happened before). Your wives and girlfriends are going to see it. Their standards for masculinity will  be exposed to Hollywood ideals. Guess what? There is nothing in the world that you can do about it. Welcome to sexual objectification. Doesn't feel so fun, huh? Have a good cry, then, don't mind me, I'll be sitting in the back row with Laura Mulvey throwing popcorn.

Okay. Deep breath. I'm going to stop ranting now and just review Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012).

Gosh, I sure hope this graphic image of bare male flesh doesn't offend anyone.
Magic Mike follows the journey of "The Kid", AKA Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who drops out of college and into male strip joint Xquisite. There, he's groomed by club owner Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) and main attraction Mike (Channing Tatum) to become the new star of the revue. Adam eventually does become Xquisite's main draw, so Mike stops stripping and tries to start a business as a designer furniture artisan. The End. No, really. Although characters wander across the screen for almost two hours, flirting, drinking, and having random sex with each other, that's all that actually happens in this movie.

Which is not to say Magic Mike isn't good, because it is. As a "slice of life", this movie succeeds on almost every level -- not surprising, given that Soderbergh is directing. It's easy to believe the studio hype that large portions of the film were based on Channing Tatum's real-life pre-Hollywood stint as an exotic dancer. Actually, even leaving the dancing out of it, Magic Mike's realism is remarkable. I challenge moviegoers to find one film this summer with dialogue as true-to-life as Magic Mike's. This script -- the turns of phrase, the stupid "ironic" jokes  -- is ripped from the mouths of the Gen-Y slackers who live and breathe all around you. Just as realistic is the hipster malaise the film's actors project: they're trying so hard not to try too hard. This is some cinema verite shit.

Frankly, all the hype regarding Magic Mike's "male strippers" is somewhat misdirected, for two reasons. First, most of Magic Mike's "dancing" takes place as part of a skit or dramatic set-up, the dancers invoke parody and/or farce in their performances, and they never strip totally nude: this is really closer to burlesque then striptease. (As a side note, it's quite remarkable how often the dancers' routines involve feigned sexual violence towards their audience: Mike and co. force their female customers to stimulate blowjobs; they tie them up, "threaten" them, and during one Fourth of July dance routine, simulate masturbation to "machine gun" sound effects. Paging Dr. Freud!). Second, anyone who goes to see Magic Mike in order to be titillated is going to be disappointed. It's not sexy. It's not a good-time stripper bromance. It's a voyeuristic peepshow into the lives of two guys who are sex workers not because they have to be, or even because they enjoy it: they simply seem not to know what else to do with their time. As far as Magic Mike is concerned, once the glamor of the taboo has worn off, stripping is just another dead-end job.

It's hard to give Magic Mike my usual rating out of five, partly because it shoots so low and partly because it, perhaps accidentally, achieves so much. I guess I'll just lob a 3/5 out there, but that's just, like, my opinion, man. Really, I don't know anything about strippers. I've never even been to a strip club. I was invited to one for a work party once, and I almost went, but then I decided to stay in and watch Fraggle Rock instead. I'm cool like that.

Flashdance your cares away.
SCENE STEALER: Riley Keough as Nora, Adam's Manic Panic'd downfall.

When Adam spots Nora, she's draped across a coffee table, kicking her legs in the air and cooing to her pet potbellied big. "You don't need that," Mike warns him, accurately gauging the likelihood of a girl who dyes her hair like an American flag and keeps a pig as a pet having an eventual psychotic breakdown. I last saw Riley Keough in Runaways, in which she played Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning's) wet blanket older sister: she's completely transformed here, a nightmare version of the badass punk girl your boyfriend had a crush on in high school. Fast fact: this girl is Elvis' granddaughter! A little less conversation, a little more action, insert punchline here.

Cody Horn as Adam's cranky sister Brooke gets an honorable mention. She's wonderfully dour and humorless. I'm not being sarcastic: more female romantic leads should be this curmudgeonly, it's refreshing.

Brooke is not amused.

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