Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Olivia Munn, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello and Matthew McConaughey
Plot: Male stripper, Mike (Tatum) introduces drifter Adam (Pettyfer) into his club, and the two of them try to navigate the strange, treacherous world of male stripping.
Magic Mike is a very interesting film to a feminist. Since women were first allowed to act, to a certain extreme (depending on the belief of your feminist critique), they have been reduced to some pretty naff parts. The rote girlfriend figure, the background part, sometimes they are just thrown on set with very little clothes on and are playing the glorious role of ‘eye candy’. While the movie business has improved dramatically on this front, there are still the occasional elements of cinema where women are still fighting for recognition. Magic Mike isn’t the kind of film that is going to change feminism overnight. To a large point, the female roles are still narrowly written (with perhaps the exception of Cody Horn, although even that is arguable), but this was always going to happen in a film where the three lead stars are men. However, what Magic Mike does is offer female audience members a slight relief by showing them a world where the reverse of female objectification exists: a film made for women where the men have a turn being trapped in their stock roles. Soderbergh’s latest picture throws the audience into the world of male stripping, a universe not properly explored by a director before now. Surprisingly, it isn’t that hard to slip into, the narrative style of the film falls into a pleasantly predictable pattern soon enough. Tatum and Pettyfer think they have lucked out with a profession where they have baying women pay to see them take their clothes off, but soon enough the negative elements start dripping in. For a large part of the movie, Magic Mike simply works at being something a girl’s nights out will prioritise as a movie watch. It is the alternative to Fifty Shades but with oodles more character development. Soderbergh puts great detail into the strip scenes, as we see the likes of Channing Tatum and McConaughey perform intricate strip dances, in moments that are bound to have the women grinning with delight. If the cinematography wasn’t so well done, you would almost be ashamed for enjoying it as much as you do. As McConaughey tells his protegee stripper about how they are taking women’s guilty pleasure and giving it to them in a legal and guilt-free environment, Soderbergh performs the same trick with his movie. But it is about so much more than the stripping, as Channing Tatum’s character proves. His role is one usually reserved for the pretty girl in a film. As his fun friend with benefits situation grows into a burning romance, he finds himself surprisingly rebuked. He is a stripper, not boyfriend material. In some regards, it is feels a little too easy to compliment this form of feminism; Soderbergh has literally just reversed genders. But there is definitely something appealing about watching Olivia Munn smugly leave Tatum out in the cold. The only complaint women can really have with this unusual male role is that it is probably far more well written than the variant given to girls. But that is a feminist debate I am not going to even begin to discuss…
For one thing, Magic Mike doesn’t have to be viewed as a feminist text. Soderbergh cleverly walks the fine line between creating an intelligent, thought-provoking piece and a fun Friday night entertainer. Yes, you can sit back and admire the gender swapped parts, but there are so many more things you can be looking at. There is a gripping story about the varying experiences Tatum and Pettyfer’s character have in this world. Tatum is saving up to start his own business, empowering himself by giving himself a leading role in the strip club. He knows the line and while he swims murky waters, tells himself he can keep his head above the surface. Meanwhile Pettyfer, an aimless drifter with no real life plans, just dives in head-first. The queuing women and easy money goes straight to his head and the character finds himself waist-deep in the party lifestyle. The film splits between these two arcs and shows a varied world into the lifestyle of a male stripper. Then there is, of course, the performances to marvel at. The days when Channing Tatum was a forgettable handsome face is long gone. He constantly finds real emotion to draw from and Magic Mike sees his most subtly layered performance yet. He dips into the charismatic joker he can do well, but when the part takes more serious routes, he easily adds interesting depth. He is surprisingly effective. Then there is McConaughey lumped with the scene-chewing supporting part. In some ways, it is frustrating seeing the actor take on a character that asks him to just have fun, but McConaughey does it so well. The trademark ‘alright, alright, alright’ drawls from that silky voice and he just attacks dialogue with a moreish fervour. You could watch the actor for hours, even if he doesn’t really do anything that pushes him truly. Again, perhaps watching an established male actor be reduced to a nothing part that is easy on the eyes is just another form of subtle feminism.
Final Verdict: Not surprisingly for a film about strippers, Magic Mike is very watchable. But it also has hidden depths, making it a film lover’s ideal film as well.