Let’s get this out of the way first: I am a young woman. So, yes, ostensibly I am in the “correct” demographic for Magic Mike. But I should also say that I would have almost zero interest in this film if it weren’t for its director, and the fairly positive reviews it’s received. Watching a bunch of beefcakes strip on screen doesn’t really gel with what I usually go to the movies to see. So yes – you could say that I went into Magic Mike a little skeptical.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Channing Tatum used to be a stripper, and in Magic Mike he plays the title character – a stripper. Also along for the ride is Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the aging owner of the strip club, as well as British prettyboy Alex Pettyfer as Adam, one of the club’s new recruits. But while director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Oceans Eleven) certainly does make the best of his extremely toned cast in all the ways you’d expecting (in other words: there’s a lot of stripping), he also manages to tell a compelling human interest story amidst all the thongs and dollar bills.
In fact, Steven Soderbergh structured Magic Mike in a really smart way. There are lots of quiet scenes, and on the whole, the movie is actually a fairly small character study. But by having the high-energy strip club performance scenes interspersed throughout, the movie moves along at a steady clip and feels more accessible than some of Soderbergh’s other “passion projects”. (Whether you see this as a good thing or simply a money grab will probably depend on what kind of Soderbergh fan you are.) And despite all these shifts in tone, Magic Mike feels very evenly paced. Everything that happens in the movie feels authentic to the character that Mike is set up to be, and sometimes a big part of the fun is watching how his day life differs so wildly from his secondary “stripper” lifestyle.
And, I have to say, a lot of this believability stems from Tatum’s performance. Until this year, I had no use for Channing Tatum, and I did not see the appeal. But between 21 Jump Street and now this, I have to give the guy some credit. Of course, he has the moves and charisma to pull off the stripper aspect, but his performance goes well beyond that. There’s one scene in particular, where Mike goes to apply for a loan to get his business endeavours off the ground. He dresses himself up and turns on the charm, but things don’t go as planned. This is such a little, intimate scene, and it relies pretty much solely on Tatum to convey Mike’s vulnerability, and how much he’s out of his league. Tatum nails this scene, and he brings that same surprising depth to much of the rest of the film.
Matthew McConaughey is also pretty fantastic here. Again, I’m really not much of a McConaughey fan at all, but he too has been making smart role choices recently. He offers up enough slimy charm in Magic Mike to steal every one of his scenes, and he somehow manages to make the whole club environment seem fun and absolutely horrible at the same time.
The other star of this movie is its style and cinematography. Any scene that takes place outside of the strip club feels so Soderbergh-y. And, for me, this worked really well. There are so many beautifully composed shots here, and I loved the sepia-tinged look of daylight world. I’m not sure how well these more “artful” elements will sit with general audiences, but if you’re a Soderbergh fan worried that this will be too sanitized, fear not. If you dug the style of his last film, Haywire, you’ll probably like this.
That’s not to say that Magic Mike is some arty, experimental indie flick. Its budget is modest ($7 million), but it’s also got plenty of your standard Hollywood tropes. Especially in the third act, there’s plenty of drama and romance designed to keep your typical moviegoer attentive. And the script, while pretty good for this kind of movie, offers up a few lines of dialogue that feel rather cliché and false.
Part of me wishes that Soderbergh would have gone even weirder and less neat with it all, but at the same time, he did a pretty impressive job of balancing genuine style with an entertaining, commercially viable movie. And, thankfully, he doesn’t tie everything up in a neat little bow. I’m not saying this is Shame or anything (some of the melodrama – especially in the third act – feels pretty shallow and “Hollywood”), but Soderbergh does cultivate a nice dark-ish undercurrent to it all.
On the whole, Magic Mike may not be anything new, but I think it’ll please a surprisingly wide swath of filmgoers; It’s got plenty of abs for those who are there for the eye candy, it offers enough character development to placate those looking for a little more substance to go with it, and it even has some beautiful camerawork to satisfy film geeks like myself. Most importantly, though, if I go to a big summer movie, I want it to be fun. Magic Mike certainly manages to be that, and also a little more substantial.