In an attempt to keep myself out of the heat this Sunday, I took in Magic Mike at the cinema in my hometown. I wanted AC and a mindless two hours spent with some friends while we were down for a visit. Magic Mike won our battle of what to see, and though it wasn’t exactly on par with Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 smash, it seemed to maintain Soderbergh’s usual air. Grainy film quality, a yellowish, goldenrod wash during the daylight scenes to make the nightlife more vivid and colorful — it maintained his usual staples. Having said that, I don’t really know that Magic Mike’s storytelling was up to snuff.
We follow Mike Lane as he guides Adam, a newcomer, through the seedy underbelly of male stripping. Of course, as our hero, Mike has ambitions beyond the world of hip-thrusting, crotch-grinding action. He wants to own his own custom furniture business, crafting one of a kind pieces for Florida’s elite. Aside from maintaining a wealth of furniture craft knowledge, he also owns a mobile auto detailing business and works construction on the side. A veritable jack of all trades whose heart is in furniture. What we don’t seem to get aside from a half-hearted scene in the bank’s loan office is why Mike can’t get his business off the ground. Apparently he has terrible credit because all his businesses deal in cash. But are we supposed to believe this guy has a crap credit score because he keeps $13,000 in a safe in his house? Like he can’t open a credit card or prove credit on the payments he makes on his very expensive and pristine truck?
Aside from the lackluster commitment to Mike’s credit report and the lukewarm love story with Adam’s sister Brooke, the real meat of the film, for lack of a better term, is in the way the all male revue dancers are portrayed. The first time we see Big Dick Richie, played by True Blood’s Joe Manganiello, he’s wearing a pair of glasses, hunched over a sewing machine, mending a gold thong. Another dancer, Tarzan, is shown shaving his legs and moisturizing them. The viewer is allowed to see all these hyper-masculine dancers in very feminine terms. The way the camera views them is in a very feminine way. A shot of Matthew McConaughey bending over in a thong is particularly reminiscent of the way filmmakers usually frame the female body in similar scenarios. Are we being asked to view these men the way we view women, to exploit them and gaze at them the way we do women, or are we using this feminine framing to enhance their masculinity, to point out the obvious differences between male and female characters in the stripper roles? Also, in this film, it’s the women who have their lives together. Brooke has a good job and a good head on her shoulders. Joanna, one of Mike’s friends and usual hook-ups, is getting her PhD in psychology and is also engaged to be married. It’s the men in the film who are falling to pieces, looking for salvation, trying to pull their messy lives into a semblance of order.
Altogether, Magic Mike kept me entertained for its run time. The ending of the film was unsatisfying, not entirely cathartic, and somewhat rushed. I wished we had more of Soderbergh’s penchant for deepening seemingly shallow moments. I wanted more grit and less glitz, more substance and less glistening abdomens.