Here's To Our Kids, May Their Parents Be Fucking Rich: Magic Mike (2012)

I am a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh, offering favorable reviews in the past year to both his blockbuster epidemic film Contagion, as well as his low-fi study of anger and isolation in a small town community via Bubble.  The director has received a high degree of very deserved praise for his seamless ability to transfer from big-budget films to small independent works repeatedly, often more than once in the same year, however, these worlds rarely ever crossed and viewers were either given star-studded spectacular bits of film, or a movie whose actors were all incredibly amateur in their delivery.  Then came one of the most unusual films in the directors oeuvre to date, Magic Mike, which gained a footing and reputation all its own, simply for choosing to focus on the life of male strippers.  So much was made of the film being "female-oriented" that it certainly failed to gain the reputation and respect it so blatantly deserved.  Firstly, Soderbergh manages to capture a world quite unfamiliar to many individuals, not to mention without any clear biases, one way or another.  Also, and much to my elation, Magic Mike manages to blend these two previously divided worlds of Soderbergh's films, in that we have bit time actors such as Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, as well as lesser known performers whose only notable roles came through brief television appearances, as such the film exudes a display that manages to capture the monotony and tragedy of day-to-day struggles irregardless of lifestyle choices, as well as the showy and over-the-top nature of the sexually fueled world of male dance reviews.  Furthermore, as seems to be the case so many times in the works of Soderbergh, particularly in the case of something like Traffic, viewers are given more than one narrative to congests and while they are all invariably tied together, it is clear that individual desires and internal struggles emerge, often in explosive and intense ways.  It is nearly tragic the level of dismissive rhetoric thrown at Magic Mike simply because of its subject matter, hell if people can muster up the courage to watch more than one masculine oriented Expendables film, there is absolutely no excuse not to check out the much superior film by a well-established auteur.

Magic Mike, as the title suggests focuses mainly on the life of Mike (Channing Tatum) a construction worker and furniture designer, who also happens to moonlight as a male dancer to pay for some debt occurred prior to the film's beginning, his stage name is the title's sake, although he is not the owner of the bar in which he performs, instead he relies on the guidance and somewhat sly business ways of aging performer Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) who clearly has a devious past that fails ever to be mentioned.  During one day of construction, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer) a down-and-out young guy who for one reason or another has resorted to taking up residence on his sister Brooke's (Cody Horn) couch.  Realizing rather quickly that he might prove decent at the job of being a dancer, Mike pull strings to get Adam into the revue, under the name of The Virgin Kid.  After a rather bold, but fortuitous first showing, Dallas agrees to allow Adam to train with the crew, eventually leading to his becoming a regular fixture in the revue.  All of this occurs, much to the disdain of Brooke who concerns herself with the dangerous lifestyle associated with late nights and heavy sexual activity, all the while dealing with the growing advances of Mike who becomes quickly infatuated with Brooke.  The life proves a bit problematic for Adam who cannot handle the constant drinking and drug use, eventually blowing a large amount of money on a sketchy drug trafficking deal, one that blows up in his face when he leaves his entire stash at a sorority party that turns sour after Adam gives a girl an ecstasy pill.  The large loss of money and a failure to gain money for Dallas leads to a falling out between the veteran performer and Mike who is tired of working in the unappreciative shadow of Dallas.  Refusing to subject himself to the lifestyle, Mike leaves bitterly on their last night in Tampa, but not before taking care of Adam's debts.  He then stops off at the house of Brooke to beg a few moments of conversation, however, Brooke is well aware of the aid he provided her brother and invites him in for much more than light discussion.  We are led to assume that their romance will succeed and that Mike will discover a way to pursue his dreams without subjecting himself to a less than desirable lifestyle.

As noted earlier and constantly joked about on various blogs, Facebook posts and Twitter updates, Magic Mike was jokingly (or perhaps not) condemned for making heavy use of the semi-nude, if not entirely nude male body.  When one considers film theory, particularly feminist film theory this provides for an unusual moment, because as many know Laura Mulvey coined the term of "The Male Gaze" to explain the pleasure men earned from gazing upon the female body in cinema.  She of course used Marilyn Monroe as her example and led to an entire academic discourse on notions of the female objectified in cinema.  This ideal proved to dominate the manner in which individuals discussed and created cinema well into the 2000's, perhaps not really changing until Daniel Craig's James Bond stepped out of water in a noticeably revealing Speedo, completely reverting notions of who is to be "gazed upon" in a film.  Of course, this occurrence is rarely discussed and has proved to disappear in newer works in the franchise.  Yet, we cannot ignore the means by which Magic Mike does similar acts, we are certainly shown the male form in a sexualized manner, often close-ups on the various actors butts, abs and genitalia, Soderbergh goes so far as to show one performer's penis as it is being made artificially erect by a air pump.  Viewers are asked then to consider their own relationships to gaze in cinema, because for the reactionary males who found the concept of Magic Mike to be inherently gay seem to remind society that the critiques Mulvey posited nearly forty years ago still ring true, it had just become an assumed thing that the female body was acceptable for a depiction of nudity and sexuality and that the male body was not to be subjected to such things.  In fact, the Motion Pictures Association of America still seems squeamish to allow for full-frontal male nudity to be shown in films, often slapping films with an NC-17 rating for such acts.  The fact that Soderbergh chose such a subject shows his willingness not only to tackle the more unknown lifestyles in America, but too that he wants viewers to consider their own objective relationship with cinema, it truly is a slyly brilliant work by the ever interesting director.

Key Scene:  The "It's Raining Men" scene is some rather stellar choreography in so much that it allows viewers to understand the dynamic of the groups characters, both in the overly committed manner of Mike, compared to some of his more drug-fueled colleagues that struggle to keep up pace with the young dancer.  It works both on a action level, as well as a metaphorical one, much praise should be given to Alison Faulk for her subtle and brilliant choreography.

The bluray was a pseudo-blind buy for me, in that I intended to rent this, but damn if it was not quite good and well worth owning, although perhaps renting is appropriate for those who may still be hesitant to watch a film about male strippers.

1 comment:

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