Remember that time I saw Magic Mike and loved it?
I would not have thought a movie about male strippers in Florida would have anything to offer me by way of enjoyment, and I only accepted the invitation out of anthropological interest. I wanted to see if the ladies in the audience [including those I was with] were fittin’ to wild out. To my surprise, the audience at our screening was pretty mixed: there were the requisite huge groups of girls, but there were also pairs of gay guys, pairs of straight guys, and mixed daters. And I’m pretty sure the movie disappointed a lot of those people. Because even though Magic Mike features no shortage of ripped, near-naked guys thrusting all over the stage, it’s still a Steven Soderbergh movie, featuring the sort of blank faced female lead and lots of the alternating snappy and stammering dialogue his films are known for and a protagonist searching for meaning in a meaningless world. This is not “Showgirls for Chicks.”
I won’t bother you giving you much of a plot synopsis because one isn’t really necessary. It’s the typical rise to fame narrative we’ve all seen a million times before, with Tatum playing the experienced mentor to Alex Pettyfer’s young stripping prodigy [quibble: Pettyfer’s character rarely shows any explicit talent for stripping, despite assurances by many other characters that he’s “got it”]. I will say that the one thing I enjoyed is even though Channing Tatum’s Mike is immersed in this world of decadence that seems appalling to his potential love interest, save for one late moment during his character’s dark night of the soul, he’s presented in the movie as a guy who’s pretty well steered clear of the temptations of the life. Stripping is a means to an end for him, a way to the life he wants while simultaneously estranging him from it [years of taking money under the table has left him with credit issues that keep him from starting the business he wants].
Look, this is not a movie that will pass into legend, and it’s obvious a movie Soderbergh made because he thought it would be fun. And it is fun. Matthew McConaughey finally has the role he was born to play as clubowner Dallas, perpetually shirtless and cowboy hatted, hosting a party in a house decorated not only with a porcelain bust of his own head but an oil painting of him with a snake draped across his shoulders. He is engrossingly ridiculous in every scene he’s in. I recently listened to Slate’s podcast review of the film, and co-host Dan Kois makes a compelling case that McConaughey’s performance is Oscar-worthy, based on the role being the fullest, most complete expression of himself as a person and an actor. Watching him roll about onstage as a crowd of women rapturously lay singles across his oiled torso, it’s hard to debate Kois’s argument. Think Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny or Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite. Scene stealing comedic roles in otherwise lesser movies. Watch him sip wine from a silver chalice as he muses that he’ll never send his kids to school, just plop them in front of the TV and force them to watch Mad Money to learn about the stock market and tell me he doesn’t deserve consideration. McConaughey 2013!
I also need to talk about two supporting players, just because I’ve observed both of their careers for so long: I knew Olivia Munn was in the film from a brief appearance in the commercials, I did not know that Soderbergh got her to do what not even Hugh Hefner could: get the girls out. I do wonder how her decision to do so reconciles with her years of disciplined refusals, claiming she’d only do it if the part was right, becoming the only Playboy cover girl not to show the goods. While Munn’s breasts are certainly deserving of the greatest slow clap we can offer, I don’t know that anyone could argue her nudity was essential to the character or added anything to the movie. Not complaining by a long shot; the screencaps are already saved to my desktop. But let’s be real about it.
The only appearance in the film more surprising than Munn’s bare breasts is professional wrestler Kevin Nash as Tarzan, the eldest member of the Cock-Rocking Kings of Tampa. I winced all through the group numbers as Nash hobbled through a less elaborate version of the choreography, running through an inventory of his injury history from his days as a wrestler. It was a ballsy career move for him, he’s not on for long and it’s not the sort of appearance that’ll get plugged on Monday Night Raw, but you gotta respect the guy for putting himself out there like that. Big Sexy, indeed.
Look, I’m not about to endorse Magic Mike as the sort of movie a group of fellas should go check out, but I’m just saying, if you get dragged there by some women, it won’t be as bad as you think.