Monday Movies Thinks We Should Be Best Friends

Magic Mike follows two performers: Magic Mike (Channing Tatum), a masterful male stripper who dreams of getting his custom furniture business off the ground but can’t raise his credit score; and Adam, aka The Kid (Alex Pettyfer), a dropout college athlete whom Mike leads into a world of temptation. In an attempt to impress Adam’s sister Brooke (Cody Horn), Mike swears to protect him as the netherworld of Florida club life wraps him tighter in its clutches.

Soderbergh restrained himself from making another Boogie Nights. The male stripping demimonde of Tampa has some overlap with Porn Valley, U.S.A. — the various madnesses of drugs, sex, and interior decoration all rear their ugly heads. But they function more as circles of racetrack than circles of hell. Restraint is the core problem of Magic Mike. It has both familiar story elements and surprising, impressive moments, but it doesn’t put enough force into either of them.

There are delights. (I saw the movie with an organized crowd of mostly gay men and straight women, 70 strong, which was a lot of fun until the crowd turned against the film). Channing Tatum has enormous ease in the role (he worked as a stripper and had input into the script) and fantastic moves. The dance scenes have a good balance of sexy, sleazy and fun, although Soderbergh’s trademark editing prevents the viewer from getting too comfortable in titillation. The romance between Mike and Brooke isn’t ever important enough to be truly moving, but the scenes have a surprising honesty and realism to them, the dialogue loose enough to let them dig in, move around each other, say half of what they want to say instead of none or all.

Matthew McConaughey achieves McConaupotheosis as Dallas, the bronzed and oily club owner. It’s as if he’s blossomed into a more-toothed and -eyed version of the creature who stood outside a mini-mart in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused twenty years ago to say “I keep getting older and they stay the same age,” as if the Kate Hudson romances were just flaky chrysalis matter to be shed away once the true beast could emerge.

The most tantalizing element of the film is also the most frustrating; it’s the affections, physical and emotional, between men. “I think we should be best friends,” The Kid says to Mike as they jump off the causeway as the dawn overtakes the night of The Kid’s virgin performance. When The Kid finally steps into Mike’s shoes, Dallas holds him close and nearly kisses him. But having set up a world of male strippers none of whom seem to be gay, the film would have a winning hand with the homosocial but never quite plays it. There’s a germ of observation here almost as trenchant as Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, the best film I know about the objectification of male bodies.

Much of Magic Mike is shot through an orange filter. Its Tampa, Florida skies recall nothing so much as Southern California in the middle of wildfire season, reminding me of driving to Temecula between a blaze on either side of I-15. Viewers of Soderbergh’s films will remember this look from The Limey, where it helps build an atmosphere of sunburnt menace. In Magic Mike, however, it is much less clear where’s the fire.

One thought on “Monday Movies Thinks We Should Be Best Friends

  1. This sounds like it bears some comparison to The Girlfriend Experience.

    This week, all we watched was Norwegian Wood, which I thought was frankly horrible. The Girlfriend is a huge Murakami fan, so we trudged through, but man…

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