Film has certainly explored the female side of the world of stripping, but rarely has the glittered curtain been pulled back on the male side of this risqué form of entertainment. Director Steven Soderbergh paints this picture with his signature style and does so in a way that shows us the highs and lows of living a cash-only lifestyle, the sort that can seem like one big party, but one that leaves you questioning your future when the sun comes up, the high from the night before wears off, and you realize you have nothing more than a stack of ones to show for your “day at the office.”
Magic Mike focuses on Mike (Channing Tatum), a man with a plan who is a natural hustler, bouncing from odd job to odd job, saving his cash, and working on his plan to start his own custom furniture business. Mike is a charmer, not just with the ladies, but with anyone he meets thanks to an unflappable, positive outlook on life as he good-humoredly chuckles in the face of even the most outlandish of situations he finds himself in. But Mike is not some good-looking blockhead, he knows where his strengths lie and has parlayed that into a successful run at a male revue, Xquisite, where he is “second in command” to the club’s owner, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey.) Mike is constantly watching the bottom line and while he is certainly having a good time, he considers it all a temporary stop on the way to what he actually wants to do.
But when Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), his idealistic outlook on life starts to get pulled into question. Adam is a nineteen-year-old kid who is clearly lost and in need of some guidance so Mike, ever the good guy, takes him under his wing. While their relationship starts off fun – full of girls, booze, parties, and good times – Mike starts realizing how his world is actually shaping Adam and how much illusion is actually at play, even when they are outside of the club. Adam is a kid (even nicknamed “The Kid” at the club) and his naïve view of this “world without consequence” makes sense, but when Mike starts to realize that he (someone who is a good ten years older than Adam) may have this same misguided view on his own situation, the walls of the world he has built for himself start to come crumbling down.
Even though he gets a ton of female attention at the club and easily parlays that into his life outside of it, we watch as Mike (who certainly seems to enjoy the endless stream of attractive women in his bed each night) longs for a real connection (or even a real conversation.) When Mike meets Adam’s sister, Brooke (Cody Horn), the spark between the two is immediate as they start bantering back and forth. Their chemistry may be lacking in the film’s trailers, but it certainly pops on screen. While it is obvious that Mike is interested in Brooke, it becomes clear that she represents more than just another lay for him, she represents someone real with a real future and a realistic outlook on life.
The entire cast certainly steps up to the plate and delivers some highly entertaining (and hilarious) routines on stage from Big Dick Richie’s (Joe Manganiello) shadow dance to Ken’s (Matt Bomer) literal Ken Doll routine, but it is Tatum who shines as the true dancer and showman, working the audience into a frenzy through his moves rather than gimmicks. As the owner of Xquisite, when Dallas finally takes the stage, we realize exactly who he is and how he got to where he is in life. He knows how to work that crowd, and he loves it. And as we observe Mike watching his performance, it becomes equally clear that Mike is starting to realize exactly the kind of future Dallas can offer him, and whether or not he wants to take it.
Things are all sparkle and fun inside of the walls of Xquisite, but once we are outside of them, Magic Mike almost looks like it was filmed through an Instagram filter giving that visual juxtaposition of fantasy versus reality. Soderbergh keeps things interesting with different camera angles and shots which elevate the quality of the film from just a “movie about strippers” to one with real heart and struggle at the center of it.
Yes, it is hard not to giggle when the boys man up and strip down. Yes, McConaughey drinks wine from a goblet on the beach and constantly delivers his signature phrase, “Alright, alright.” But just as Mike masked his real problems and obstacles with his time in and outside of Xquisite, Soderbergh also uses it as the veil over an otherwise gritty tale about what it means to try and make a career out of being charming and handsome, and what happens when you recognize that path has an expiration date.
The Upside: Soderbergh and his cast deliver a fully realized story that just happens to be set against the shimmery backdrop of a male strip club. Magic Mike adeptly moves back and forth from the club to the world outside of it, taking the film from its idealistic beginning to stark reality.
The Downside: Magic Mike would have benefited from ending a few minutes earlier rather than giving a more “Hollywood” ending that, while sweet, seemed to detract from the more realistic and interesting place we had finally arrived at.
On the Side: As many know, Magic Mike is based on Tatum’s past as a dancer at a male revue club in Florida. Movies.com rounded up some pictures and footage that prove why Tatum seemed to have the most skills on the stage in the film.