Sunday, August 19, 2012

In Defense: MAGIC MIKE

By: Henry Melville 

*There are definite spoilers in this, so, don't read it if you haven't seen the movie. Also, all quotes are paraphrased; they are far from perfect.

Sex, Drugs & Stripping

Superficial, adj1. Shallow; not profound or thorough.  
2. insubstantial or insignificant.  
3. of or pertaining to the surface.

One of my coworkers, Breanna, who saw Magic Mike called it "superficial" and said she didn't like it because it was "just sex and drugs." My ears echoed with the word "just." If I had only seen the trailers for Magic Mike, I'd be inclined to agree with her, but I saw the movie because I wanted to know how Steven Soderbergh fit into it all. After seeing it (and how incredulously well directed, acted, edited, shot, etc. it was), I decided it was the best movie I've seen this year. Some would say that's more shocking than a girl not enjoying hot man-ass and muscles.

To be sure I wasn't about to make a jerk out of myself by writing this, I asked Breanna to clarify if she thought it was a bad movie, or if she just didn't like it. Her answer is made clear in the fact that I am actually writing this.

I'm not exactly sure were to start though. The only reason she gave me was the one about superficiality, so I guess I can prove that she's dead wrong in that regard. It's not an opinion. Superficial is simply what defines all the people who saw the movie for Channing Tatum's looks and male stripping. And like I've said before, Magic Mike trailers tricked 30 year old desperate housewives into watching a movie with actual content, not just sex and hunks.

"Just sex and drugs" means that all sense of character is irrelevant to the story or only serves as a means to get to the sex and drugs. So there must be no character development in Magic Mike, right? Wrong again, Breanna. Look at the titular character Magic Mike. Other than being acted with an extreme nuance that is unexpected from the guy who starred inThe Vow, the character development is dealt with an equal subtlety that initially caught me off guard. The first time we see Mike, he's getting out of bed after a night with two girls, Joanna and...Penelope!(?). Our first reaction to the character is that he's "a player" and, in a way, immature. Mike gives his "stripper wisdom," to Adam's sister and why Adam would choose to stay a male stripper: "He's 19. There's money, girls and a good time." Joanna serves as Mike's "good time" while he puts on this facade of being beyond that stage in his life. The reason Mike can't get his furniture business of the ground or quit his stripper job is because he actually doesn't want to. Adam "The Kid" shows Mike in three months how he's been acting since he started stripping. The immaturity, the stupidity, the bad decisions, all of it. The last we see of Joanna, she is right on the doorstep of becoming a psychiatrist and she's engaged. Mike is exactly in the same position as he was.

His realization of this occurs after losing his money to Tobias' "friends," almost getting Adam killed and confronting Brooke about it all. Tatum stutters his way through that scene brilliantly. I don't think I've seen a better example of a character figuring himself out out-loud before. "I'm not my lifestyle...It is what I do but, it's not who I am." When Brooke retorts, "The question isn't whether I believe it, but do you?" She isn't talking about his financial plans to go to Miami to get the funds to kickstart his furniture business, she's questioning him about his lifestyle. After all, it was only the night before that he and Adam "got fucked up." So, I suppose, it's just insignificant that Mike puts an end to his stripping and doesn't go to Miami? That's just sex and drugs, yeah?

And Matthew McConaughey's caricature (reminiscent of Frank TJ Mackey in Magnolia) of a prideful, self-idolizing, washed up stripper is just sex. The detail to the character's surroundings is worth mentioning. The self-portraits and sculpting, the constant use of chalices instead of regular cups, the showing off of rich furniture and clothing, his only strip-tease in the movie sums up the character. The way he begs and absorbs the attention ("You have to believe you are inside every last one of them.") "You are their liberation." Dallas does believe this.  "You thinking about biting the hand that feeds ya?" But it's not enough that he's just prideful, he also represents, in a perverted way, a father figure to these strippers. He's their employer, but he works out with them, he gives them opportunity, he watches out for them (when they don't get in the way of watching out for himself). His excitement about Miami isn't just for himself. "Tarzan, step out of the dark and into the light." Why give such depth to a character if he's just there to look good and hire more guy-candy?

I could go in-depth about each character and how they absolutely don't fit into this view of the movie as "superficial," but I've already spent enough time explaining just one lead and one supporting character. I will (try to) briefly show the craft with which the movie was constructed to prove it's more than "sex and drugs" and how it doesn't fit the definition of "not thorough." (I'm currently writing a piece for a blog about the rave scene in Magic Mike, so that scene will be discussed ad naseum later). Sometimes metaphors are so blatantly obvious that they are inexplicably missed. Take for example that spectacular shot where Adam gets an insinuated blowjob from the birthday girl and Mike makes out with her friend. The shot isn't as simple as it appears. The shot's a (seemingly) single tilting shot starting from above Adam's head, traveling past the girl on her knees, past their shoes on the floor, to a red, snake-like counter design to an upside shot of Mike making out. Like I said, the symbolism can easily be as obvious as this: introducing Adam into this decadent world of male stripping ("Welcome to the crazy club")...wait for it...turns Mike's world on its head. But no, never mind, this movie is just sex and drugs, there's no symbolism that relates to character development.

On a particularly lonely night for Mike, he's sitting alone in his living room (shown by a great use of an unfocused-to-focused shot of Mike slowly falling back into his couch) listening to the waves outside his house. In his loneliness, he calls Joanna. We see him scroll this his numerous contacts (some with last names, some just first, distinguishing closer friends with acquaintances and other, less intimate contacts) we hear the waves crashing. He lands on Joanna's name and presses send. Cut to Joanna laying on top of Mike (shot vertically instead of horizontally symbolizing how Joanna's presence has Mike pushed up against a metaphoric wall) as the sounds of the waves are continuous. Why didn't the sounds of the waves cut? Do they serve as this underlying, constant in Mike's life? ("The dream is to wake up on the beach and make things.") These questions shouldn't exist in a movie lacking profundity or significance.

If this movie was "just sex and drugs," just "superficial," then I would not have been able to write nearly as much (and I can write a considerable amount more) as I have and will (see: Rave scene analysis for The Seafarers blog). Movies like Project X or Hot Tub Time Machineare "just sex and drugs", superficial. Intent plays a large role in it all. The fact that Magic Mike showed the male stripping industry in a nonjudgmental but honest way already puts the film light years above movies that glorify sex and drugs. Then again, what do I know. I guess Magic Mike is "just" about hot dudes and their hot dongs. ("Ladies, for the last time, give it up for the cock rocking kings of Tampa!")

Thorough, adj.  1. Extremely attentive to accuracy and detail,  
2. Executed without negligence or omissions.
3. Having full command or mastery of an art, talent.

Genuine , adj. 1. Free from pretense, affectation, or hypocrisy.


  1. I should probably write that rave thing already...

  2. DO IT! I have a few more I didn't think about before by the way. Talk to me when you're gonna do it.