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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
My above statement has no irony attached to it. I truly believe that. Yeah, I realize this is the male stripper movie which caused legions of women to see on opening night and legions of men dismiss the picture outright on internet forums. I also realize that a movie about male strippers has the potential to veer completely into self-parody. A non-traditional movie subject matter is prime for it to be a complete creative failure. This movie, however, is not.
There is a reason for that: Steven Soderbergh. Personally, I think that he is the finest director out there today. With the possible exception of the Ocean’s Eleven films, Soderbergh is completely into doing his films for the art of storytelling. He has that indie sensibility, but is able to cross his movies over to successfully connect with general audiences. Not an easy trick.
Magic Mike would likely not have been successful in anyone else’s hands. Soderbergh rightly focuses on the characters and their development to push the movie forward. This movie could have easily been pure shallow exploitation showing sexy male bodies. And, to be honest, there is nothing wrong with the approach. For every Coyote Ugly, there should be a male equivalent.
However, the movie does not go there. It rises above the exploitative nature (don’t worry – there is still plenty of beefcake) to develop a really deep and complex cast of characters. I do not mean to suggest that the movie takes itself too seriously. Overall, the film is very light in tone (and seems to have a little self-awareness by poking fun at itself) while having a dramatic through line.
Channing Tatum is the titular “Magic” Mike who is a stripper by night in order to raise money to pursue his dream job of opening up a custom made furniture business. Through various circumstances, he takes young slacker Adam (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing as the latter trains to become a male stripper. Mike also starts to forge a relationship with Alex’s overprotective sister, Brooke (Cody Horn). Throughout the movie, Adam begins to delve deeper and deeper into the seedy underside of the stripper lifestyle. It is a very thin plot, but this movie is not about the story. It is a deep look into the male stripper lifestyle and what motivates and pushes these characters to do what they do.
Tatum is fantastic here. I have praised him the past, but he really gives everything here. I love the little nuances that he gives his character. Mike wants so much more in life, but is trapped by his own limitations. He cannot escape the stripper life due to things completely outside of his control. Everything he has in his life is so superficial, somewhat by his design, and when he tries to reach beyond his situation, it detonates in his face. Mike is a wonderfully conflicted, yet relatable character. Tatum had so much to work with here, and he hit the door running with it. Anyone who says that Tatum cannot act has either not seen Magic Mike or simply does not know what they are talking about.
The rest of the cast is solid. There really is not a weak link in the bunch. I have to give special props to Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the wonderfully egotistical strip club owner. McConaughey completely threw himself into this role, and it is obvious that he is having the time of his life. I dare anyone to watch his scenes and not crack a smile.
I stand by my earlier comment: Magic Mike is the best movie released during summer 2012. It avoids the pitfall of pure exploitation. Instead, Soderbergh gives us very likeable characters who we want to see develop and cheer on during their journey of self-discovery. I cannot recommend it enough.