Wednesday, June 27, 2012
I SEE A LOTTA GENDER BINARY LAWBREAKERS OUT THERE: MAGIC MIKE
Box office predictions are not what I do best, largely because I don't really care beyond a vague desire to see good pictures make money and bad ones tank, largely because the predictive metric I use is extremely imprecise: the gut feeling. One's guts, to paraphrase John Cusack in High Fidelity, tend to have shit for brains. But I've been seeing signs that allow me to make the following prediction with a fair degree of confidence: Magic Mike is going to make an absolute fuckton of money.
It will do so by catering to the “people who like seeing good-looking naked dudes” demographic, large numbers of whom have been evincing distinct interest in this movie, and if anything, they're not as excited as they should be. Steven Soderbergh is too subtle a filmmaker to beat a dead horse with enormous stripper cock (though there are a couple, what's the word, memorable dick shots), instead crafting what ends up being a really interesting counterpoint to his January picture Haywire in terms of subversion of traditional notions of gender. Where in Haywire Soderbergh has Gina Carano swaggering around dispensing ownage (traditionally a male enterprise), in Magic Mike we're presented with men who rely on their looks to earn a living dancing naked for money, and the premature obsolescence inherent to that way of life. Much as Gina Carano, while an agent of the highest level of brutal ownage, is also a conventionally attractive, even feminine, woman, Magic Mike star Channing Tatum is in no overt way androgynous, and yet without contradicting his masculinity in any way manages to evince powerful sensuality and vulnerability. However (and sadly tellingly), while Gina Carano's likely career trajectory in movies is essentially “rich man's Cynthia Rothrock,” Channing Tatum's has no ceiling. I've been saying this for a couple years now, but y'all are just gonna have to deal with this shit: Channing Tatum is a good-god-almighty Movie Star.
And he's absolutely tremendous in Magic Mike, a semi-autobiographical tale based loosely on his own days as a male stripper prior to breaking into movies. By day, Tatum is a 30ish guy named Mike hustling a few bucks here and there doing construction and stuff, but by night . . . he's Magic Mike, male stripper extraordinaire. Life is good: he has threesomes with his omnisexual kind-of-sort-of girlfriend Joanna (Olivia Munn) and anonymous women whose names neither of them can remember. One day, Mike meets a younger dude (Alex Pettyfer) who's either shy or has a case of rectal-cranial inversion syndrome—maybe both, but definitely one or the other—and, impulsively, decides to invite him into the odd, hilarious, and wildly fun world of stripping.
Magic Mike's story is nothing especially novel, which in a way is kind of the point. The milieu is relatively novel, as is the fact that it's an examination of male beauty, but the main thrust (heh heh) of the narrative is “life moves on/all things must pass/looks fade/new replaces old.” As the movie goes on, it becomes increasingly clear to Mike that he's rapidly approaching his sell-by date in terms of being a stripper, and the question becomes how exactly he'll deal with this, if in fact he does. Given that this is, while a universal truth, not the most dramatic premise imaginable, Magic Mike is a little slow in places, before recovering for an immensely satisfying ending that vaguely recalls Ron Shelton's Bull Durham, with Channing Tatum as Crash Davis. Of all the things.
Speaking of Tatum, though, the real appeal here is the acting. Tatum is legitimately fucking spectacular, not just in comparison to his previous work, but actually fifth Best Actor nominee caliber. That is not an exaggeration. He hits every note perfectly, from the doofus moments to the puer aeternus moments, to the truly mind-boggling, seemingly physically impossible dance routines (the one he comes up with when Matthew McConaughey challenges him to come up with “something new” truly is something new; Soderbergh shoots it and Tatum performs it in stunning form). The other legitimately award-worthy performance is McConaughey's. His slightly older, semi-retired stripper-turned-majordomo is the absolute perfect Matthew McConaughey role, and not only because he's expressly prohibited from ever wearing a shirt. If anything, McConaughey almost makes it look too easy; the one scene where it's really apparent how much craft is on display is when he and Channing Tatum find themselves, for the first time, overtly at cross purposes. The turn from sexy, charismatic charmer to utterly cold-blooded bastard is immediate, absolute, and perfectly played.
Nearly everyone else is good too. Alex Pettyfer has a slightly tougher job as the inscrutable Kid, and handles himself acceptably. Stand-up comic Gabriel Iglesias represents my people (fat dudes, of course, not Latinos, of whom there are others and of whom despite speaking quite a bit of Spanish I am not) quite well, and hopefully this means he'll get more movie roles, because he's really funny and he does well here. The two main women—apart from the dozens of extras having an absolute goddamn blast during the strip club scenes—are a bit of a study in contrasts: Olivia Munn is fun (and gets the job done, boom bap ba boom ba boom bap) as the threesome-loving Joanna, and looms large in a fairly crucial plot point viz a vis the whole perpetual onward march of time business, though Cody Horn (representing another side of the same plot point) is a bit awkward as the Kid's sister, and makes a bit of a mess with her one big emotional scene. Still, she's not terrible, just not all that great.
The job Steven Soderbergh does with this material is really rather extraordinary. Great as he is, the words “loose” and “fun” are not generally the first that come to mind when his name is mentioned, and the fact that Magic Mike is loose and fun is a lot more surprising than “Peter Andrews” (SERIOUSLY WHY DOES HE ONLY SHOOT STEVEN SODERBERGH MOVIES YOU GUYS????) creating a perfectly Floridian sense of place with a color palate largely grounded in golden browns with the occasional dash of pink (which colors also bring to mind skin), because that's the kinda shit fancy-schmancy really fucking talented filmmakers are supposed to do. The soundtrack is excellent (and a lot more strip-clubby than the usual Soderbergh jazzy David Holmes or ambient Cliff Martinez either-or), and the club sequences are simply goddamn brilliant. American hetero male iconography all over the goddamn place, being made fun of. A shooting style that simultaneously captures the ridiculousness, hilarity, and wonderful guilelessness of the dance numbers. I mean, damn, for a guy who keeps moaning about how he wants to retire, it sure seems like the reason Soderbergh forewent handheld for tripods here is because he kept making the camera shake from giggling nonstop with glee. That authorial sense of fun pervades Magic Mike, and makes the darker parts toward the hour and a quarter mark feel darker. And even at the end, when the irony of the picture's title becomes increasingly manifest, that sense remains, part as a fond memory, part as an indication that what lies ahead may very well be fun, too.
So, yeah. Magic Mike's a real crowd-pleaser. It's on its way to becoming the least-surprising surprise hit in recent memory. Cuz I mean goddamn, for real: you have box-office god Channing Tatum (get used to it) getting very naked (cue straight ladies and gay dudes, “Oh, I can definitely get used to that”) and a lot of other very decorative dudes working without the ol' cis-gender-role safety net. That mix of the familiar and the novel is the stuff genuine blockbusters are made of. Oh, and also, for the lesbians and straight dudes: there are girl boobies, and fairly wonderful ones, too. Just saying, when Magic Mike turns into the biggest non-comic book hit of the summer, don't be shocked.