"Magic Mike": a Movie Review
This review is text copyrighted by B. L. Bierley © 2012.
For the record, I will say that I was exactly like many women who went to watch "Magic Mike" the day it was released. To be more specific, I waited like a predatory panther for the tickets to go on sale so that I could get a block of six for me and my girlfriends to go for a girls' night out together at our local multiplex that allows cocktails in certain theaters. We wanted to see hot, athletically fit and attractive males in less clothing. But my reasons for going to see this movie are not at issue here. Therefore I'll focus the review on the movie itself, rather than just my expectations from what was advertised in the trailer. Be warned, ladies and gentlemen, this review has a spoilers—none of which are what was featured in the stripping scenes (sorry).
All that Glitters
“Magic Mike” is directed by Steven Soderbergh and is rated R. This movie is not intended for viewers under the age of eighteen.
The movie begins in the same way the trailers hit the big screen last year—teasing you into a false sense of what to expect. Right away we see in this film that the characterization being made of the life of a male stripper isn’t as glamorous and fun as one might imagine. In fact our main character, Magic Mike-- played by the virtual demigod (and former fellow Alabamian, born just down the road a piece from where I currently live- but that’s not important) Channing Tatum—works very hard for his money. The movie harkens its earlier predecessor, “Flashdance” in many ways in that respect. A dancer who dreams of becoming so much more than her current profession—much like every morality tale we’ve ever watched where someone becomes more than what they are when they start out. Here the plot is not that unique. The main difference with this film is that in the beginning we might be led to believe that Mike really does like his job. The plot soon focuses on the newcomer, “The Kid” or “The Virgin” or as his sister refers to him: Adam played by a relative newcomer, Alex Pettyfer.
Adam attaches himself to Mike right away because Mike is nice to him. But we get the quick impression that Adam isn’t the brightest candle on the cake. While Mike tries, unsuccessfully, to make a future for himself as a furniture designer and manufacturer, we see him being rejected for a loan even though he has thirteen large in cash as collateral simply because he has no equitable credit to his name. At the same time Adam is quickly swept into this fantasy lifestyle amidst the protestations of his older, wiser sister, Brooke—played by a relatively unknown Cody Horn. Mike develops a tendril of affection toward Brooke, while at the same time trying to protect her from his shadier side. That shadiness is displayed in the form of a girl with whom he occasionally has sexual relations. Olivia Munn plays the temptress Joanna who Mike mistakenly believes is part of a relationship. We find out the hard way (right along with Mike later in the movie) that her affection is superficial and not to be developed beyond the random hook-ups she allows on her terms.
Early on in the film, Mike promises Brooke that he will look out for Adam in the world of male exotic dancing. But he clearly drops this ball later on when Brooke discovers her drunken brother passed out in his own vomit after a wild night. This is the direct result of their nearly getting beaten up for something Adam does at a private party, causing them to have to leave in haste. Adam tells Mike he needs to go back to get his bag—which has drugs he is supposed to be selling for Tito, the club’s DJ, played very seriously by comedian Gabriel Iglesias.
Mike starts to realize that Adam is out of control. But he is also not much in control of himself either. Adam is more than a pain in Mike’s behind. When the unknown people come to collect on their drug product’s revenue, Mike is forced to bail out Adam to the tune of ten thousand of his hard earned dollars. This all happens parallel to his being duped by the club owner. Dallas—played to a turn by the charismatic Matthew McConaughey, tells him he's getting less than his expected 10 percent in the club’s revenues after their upcoming move to a larger market in Miami and there's nothing he can do about it. Mike is trapped. It isn't until the end that Brooke realizes what Mike did to protect her brother and sees what kind of guy he really is. Adam doesn’t really learn his lesson. Mike is left with a decision of how his life will go after crushing set-back of paying for another person's mistakes.
What I Liked About Magic Mike
This movie was a lot like some of my indie movie selections usually are. It’s a bleak portrayal that doesn’t come across in any way like the advertised promotional trailers appear. The movie isn’t really a happy comedy. The upbeat music in the trailer betrays the potential viewer with the promise of a quirky day-in-the-life picture of a male exotic dancer and his equally near-naked buddies. But the reality of the movie is that the stipping lifestyle isn’t what you see on stage. Drugs, alcohol, and the other dark side effects are omnipresent in this tale. And yet, I must admire the writer and the director for giving a stark reality instead of a rom-com. That said, I wasn’t fully prepared for the soul-burning inferno of this boy’s life when he cries for what he’s lost as he leaves the club for the last time—and it’s not the hot dance numbers and the tips he’s crying for. It’s his money, his future and his dignity. That was harsh to watch. It would have been better if I’d gone into the film with those kinds of expectations. But laying those aside, I think the movie showed the underbelly of male stripping as a career with no rose-colored glasses. And for that I must applaud.
I also applaud Channing Tatum, Adam Rodriguez, Joe Manganiello, Matt Bomer, Kevin Nash and Matthew McConaughey for their realistic portrayals of male strippers. From the intense physical demands of having to display themselves without much to hide their flaws, to the exhaustion and frustration of working so hard without much to really show except lacking self-esteem and addiction issues—which are sadly prevalent among many people in this profession from what I understand. It must’ve taken a lot of courage to have such performances recorded on film for all of posterity to witness. You guys have guts, I’ll give you that! And I respect people who can take a role and make it about much more than just the pretty side or the funny parts. It’s not every guy who can act like he is using a penile-enhancing device while keeping a straight face for the camera. I’d say that’s some pretty good acting chops in my book.
Where Magic Mike Fell Flat (No Pun Intended)
I heard more women saying, as they came away from this movie, that it wasn’t very good. No, ladies, let’s be honest. The movie was disappointing because it wasn’t what was promised in the promos. For a movie about the less-glamorous side of stripping, I’d give it two big thumbs up. It showed exactly what I believe Channing Tatum, whose idea baby this movie allegedly was, meant for it to show. Stripping isn’t a fun career choice.
Not that a little fantasy isn’t useful for us regular folks. I think that was where stemmed 99.999% of the ladies’ frustration with this film. They didn’t go to see the backstage problems. They wanted to see the onstage titillation. They wanted what Matthew McConaughey’s character proclaims is the goal for every male stripper to be: "the husband they never had, the dreamboat guy that never came along” in other words, the fantasy. That’s what made the movie a failure for most women who went to see it. They expected the fantasy but got the reality. Welcome to life, girls!
Here’s What I Recommend
Don’t get duped by the media on this movie. I was fooled, and that’s saying a lot. I don’t believe the media most of the time, but in this case they’re entirely to blame for their blatant misrepresentation of this film. I actually sympathize with the film and the director. I’m a writer without an agent. I’m self-published, and it’s a hard row to hoe, y’all. Promotional representation is what sells the books for writers! This is the same for directors and actors trying to get an idea across the negotiating table. I think there are plenty of artists out there with more to offer than what an agent is willing to see in them or an investor is willing to put toward their vision. Directors have to battle in order to get money for films they’re trying to make and actors must negotiate what they’re worth for every film. But it’s the investors’ prerogative as to how the PR is done, because the marketing follows the money.
This holds very true for “Magic Mike” the movie. I believe there is a good movie hidden behind some glamorous misleading marketing. I don’t know which is worse here, a good movie hidden behind a misleading promotional trailer or a bad one hidden behind a misleading promotional trailer. It’s a tough call that gets far into my usual rant against the misleading media, so I won’t bore you with the soapbox lecture here.
But as for “Magic Mike”, here’s my suggestion. If you are going to see a movie just because of the nearly-naked guys suggested in the trailer you should save your money and wait for the DVD so you can skip the plot and just enjoy the well-done beefcake parts. If you want to see a movie where the harsh light of day is what you get along with little snippets of the glitzy lifestyle, then the movie is worth the price of admission. The movie is more about what causes the hangovers, the bad relationship choices and the disappointments when the stripping life doesn’t add up to what the package sells. It’s oddly clever to me that the movie’s portrayal of the lifestyle shows what the trailer hides—the same way strippers have to hide their reality to be someone’s fantasy while they’re performing!