' ' Cinema Romantico: Magic Mike

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Magic Mike

“Magic Mike,” despite doubling as the protagonist’s nickname, may as well also describe the sleight of hand employed by its ever-evolving auteur, Steven Soderbergh. Beyond question this is not one of his “great” movies, yet that he can achieve something so affable and even (somewhat) poignant centered around a group of stripping Floridian bros is testament to his versatility.

Channing Tatum is Mike, roofer by day, stripper by night, and in a no-strings-attached relationship with Joanna (Olivia Munn), a burgeoning shrink which makes us instantly sympathetic for her future patients. He works the stage at a surprisingly lavish club run by the charismatic lothario Dallas (Matthew McConaughey, born to play the part). On a roofing job, Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a wayfaring college dropout staying with his sister, responsible, uptight Brooke (Cody Horn), and before long, against Brooke’s wishes, Mike has ensnared Adam in his lewd, party-all-the-time underground world where the women and money are found side by side.

Not that these characters don't have dreams. Characters always have dreams! Based upon Tatum’s own experiences (how much?) as a 19 year old stripper and written by his pal Reid Carolin, Mike yearns to concoct some sort of vaguely defined furniture-making business but can’t get the credit to get the loan. Dallas dreams of moving his apparently thriving business from the passable beaches of Tampa to the extravagant beaches of Miami. Adam dreams of, well, something and Brooke dreams that Adam would stop.screwing.up.

Essentially these little bits of business go exactly where you expect but they turn out to be more like, say, the stripper pole than the stripper – the prop used by the stripper in service of the show. Most movies would have mistakenly force-fed the dreams and turned “Magic Mike” plot heavy, but Soderbergh is almost grandiose in his casualness. His camera often comes across like the partygoer just looking to chill out and observe and the acting, rather than getting bogged down in pesky emotions, is mostly just breezy.

McConaughey, in a way, is just taking the McConaughey persona cultivated in the public’s mind in the past few years and twisting it, his act belying a twangy ruthlessness. The keys, however, are Tatum and Horn. In Soderbergh’s other 2012 film, “Haywire”, he offered non-actress Gina Carano in the lead, but generally put her into position to succeed by playing to what she could do. He does the same with Horn and Tatum. Horn only has a few films under her belt, and Tatum a few more than that, but no one, harsh as it may sound, would, at this juncture, call them “rangy” actors. Nevertheless, Horn’s sorta stilted delivery of dialogue works perfectly for a character so buttoned-up emotionally and Tatum’s big-hearted frat boy good-times gang leader is squarely in his wheelhouse. (Pettyfer is the weak link. For all the allure he’s meant to have as “The Kid”, he doesn’t seem very alluring. Then again, I’m not a lady. Which is why I’m placing this statement in parentheses and excusing myself from the conversation.)

The movie really only starts stepping wrong in the third act when it trades in its low-pressure vibe for souped-up drama. No one here feels quite as tortured as the varying situations would lead us to believe. But that might be the right call for the material because the end might be Magic Mike acknowledging it’s time to give up this life of leisure. The difficulty will come after the credits roll.


Alex Withrow said...

"Horn’s sorta stilted delivery of dialogue works perfectly for a character so buttoned-up emotionally..."

Yes, yes, fucking yes. My god, I've argued that point so hard over these past few months. I really think Magic Mike (which I loved from frame one to final) encapsulated Soderbergh's constant desire to capture naturalism. I believed everything about it. It'll easily crack my Top 10 of the year.

Great review.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks, man. It's really kind of shocking how natural the whole movie feels and I think that's partly on account of casting people like Horn. Soderbergh just has an uncanny knack for taking specific people/actors and utilizing them for what they can do and not what they can't.

blahblahblah Toby said...

Great review Nick, I don't think I've read a better or more rounded appreciation of this film yet.

And Alex! Your reaction to it, I know you dig Soderbergh, probably more than me too, but Top 10 of the year?

Soderbergh just has an uncanny knack for taking specific people/actors and utilizing them for what they can do and not what they can't. Is this not the mark of a great director in total control of every aspect of his film? Yeah yeah I can gush like a fanboy too.

Nick Prigge said...

Thanks! Appreciate it.

For Soderbergh to make two totally different movies that are both so assured in their storytelling - that's just incredible. And it's why although I've heard some grumbling about that new film of his - "Side Effects" - I don't know how anyone couldn't trust him?

Andrew K. said...

Pettyfer is the MPV for me here, I still can't get his ridiculous, bathetic line-reading of "Can we be best friends?" out of my head.

Valid points as usual, it doesn't care to get bogged down by the emotional, it observes the situation with these easiness that's almost detached but not in a bad way and it's charming but not officious.

Yes, I'd prefer if the praise for McConaughey was not so effusive (or at least not at the expense of Pettyfyer) but a jolly, fun movie that I really enjoyed.

Anonymous said...

I really liked this film, more than most others seem to do. I think it was the dancing numbers that nailed it for me. They were surprisingly good at doing what they were doing! I also loved the balance, where the film neither demonized, nor idealized the life of a male stripper.

This said: no strip movie has yet beat The Full Monty.

Nick Prigge said...

That is SUCH a good point about the balance. It honestly had not crossed my mind, but you're right.

Cath Brookes said...

Magic Mike is far from perfect, but that's the fun. Whether you think Soderbergh is winking at the audience or the movie is "so bad it's good," Magic Mike is one heck of a good time at the movies.
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