2012 • 110 minutes • Warner Brothers Pictures
Channing Tatum is a national treasure. I tend to avoid mainstream romantic comedies, due to the social narratives they perpetuate. (Unless, of course, two people I think are cute are making out in it, like Becoming Jane. I am a simple woman with simple tastes.) Because of this, I did not learn this fact until watching 21 Jump Street and 22 Jump Street recently.
If you haven’t seen either, you are missing out. Lord and Miller’s sweet, slightly warped, and meta sensibility is much more pronounced in the second film, which not only deconstructs action sequels, but goes on to destroy Jump Street as a franchise in a nonlethal way. But Tatum’s Jenko is a comedic masterpiece in either film. He’s dumb as a brick, macho, easily distracted; and he’s also nice, unafraid of close male friendships, and on an actual journey towards emotional and intellectual maturity. (In the second film, Jenko takes a course on Human Sexuality and starts calling out people for using homophobic slurs, including himself.) Tatum’s commitment to Jenko’s unique logic is laudable. As Empire’s Helen O’Hara has said, it takes smarts to play that beautifully stupid.
Tatum’s eponymous character in Magic Mike is, like Jenko, a likable lunkhead. But Jenko lives in an action movie franchise where he’s wholly fulfilled by his police work and his best friend. Mike lives in the real world, even if Mike’s real world is sun-drenched Tampa over the course of a summer. And Mike is getting older. After taking a lost nineteen-year-old, Adam, under his wing and inducting him in the world of male stripping, Mike, by watching Adam’s career take off in the same way that his did, becomes uneasily aware that the life he’s living will not allow him to pursue his dreams—either of starting his own custom furniture business or building a real connection with another human being.
In short, Magic Mike is a story about someone evolving into a more fully realized human being, which is one of my favorite kinds of stories. (Witness my love of The Goose Girl and Saturday Night Fever.) And that was a wonderful surprise, since my main impression of Magic Mike at the time was largely of straight girls delighted to get to ogle male actors onscreen. (This is actually what started me down to the path to Alamo Drafthouse Cinema fanaticism. My roommate at the time went to go see Magic Mike at Atlanta’s Movie Tavern and extolled the virtues of watching beefcake and chowing down on cheap queso at the same time. To this day, my movie treat remains chips and queso.) I’m used to mainstream media cutesifying female sexuality in order to downplay it (witness the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey, apparently the abusive romance utterly confused about what BDSM actually is for Valentine’s Day 2015), but this was something else entirely.
And I’m fine with that, because, like Saturday Night Fever’s reputation, it protects the delicate story at its center. There’s no question that Adam is being groomed to replace Mike, from the club’s owner Dallas eying him with his dead-eyed stare to the final shot of Adam, where he replaces Mike in the show’s opening number. But that’s all conveyed visually. Mostly, Magic Mike is a hangout film, its three acts punctuated by title cards declaring what month of the summer it is. Characters talk over each other, go to work, drive home. There’s no score, only diegetic music. The characters largely go through their lives as they’ve done it all before, with only Mike peering outside of the routine to see if there’s a way out while still reaping the routine’s rewards. Ultimately, of course, there’s not, as long as he’s allied with someone as mercenary as Dallas.
Which is why it’s so important that Mike eventually manages to make an equal connection with another human being at the end of the film. I really wish it hadn’t been an explicitly romantic one, but Tatum and Cody Horn, playing Adam’s older sister Brooke, have an interesting chemistry nonetheless. Both characters have a vested interest in protecting Adam, but come to realize that Adam might not be worth protecting. Horn’s slouchy, muttering, but focused Brooke is a refreshing screen presence. Adam disillusions Mike; Brooke, by just being herself, shows him that there’s a way out and forward.
And yes, male-attracted people of the world, there are plenty of stripping scenes, featuring the women (and, apparently, not a single male-attracted dude) of Tampa rapturously dowsing the men of Xquisite in cash. (I’m told its DVD release features a cut of the film that is entirely composed of the stripping scenes, in case Mike’s emotional journey is getting in the way of your ogling.) But only Tatum has enough actual experience and dancing talent to make his numbers pop. I wish I could say that the next film I watch featuring Channing Tatum will be Jupiter Ascending or Foxcatcher, but it’s probably going to be Step Up.
I am a simple woman with simple tastes.
I rented this film from the public library.