13 July 2012


Having seen three new Steven Soderbergh movies in cinemas in the last year, I think it's safe to say that he's probably not as close to retirement as he might have you believe. They've all been markedly different films, so perhaps Soderbergh's hopping from genre to genre is what's keeping his career going. It's either that or the most unlikely ongoing actor-director collaboration to emerge in some time, with Channing Tatum.

Magic Mike is apparently based on aspects of Tatum's life, and his early career as a male stripper at the age of 19, and Soderbergh re-teams with one of his actors from Haywire to bring this to the screen. Mike is a dancer at a club called Xquisite, but it's his young protege Adam who becomes just as much the protagonist of the film. Mike takes Adam, a lazy, teenaged slacker, under his wing, and teaches him how to make money, chat up women and enjoy the lifestyle of a stripper. Meanwhile, 30-year-old Mike is desperate to get out and start a business, and his encouragement of Adam has consequences.

Starting with Haywire, back in January, 2012 has thus far been the year in which Channing Tatum has really got people to sit up and take him seriously as an actor. He may not be even a hundredth percentage of a good actor in the eyes of many cineastes, but his choices have been more interesting, especially in his two collaborations with Soderbergh, a noted actor's director. Elsewhere, the one-two box office punch of 21 Jump Street and The Vow have propelled him into the A-list, in a time when bankable stars are in short supply.

Better actors couldn't hope for as good a memoir as this, not that Magic Mike is entirely based on his experiences. Indeed, given the age at which he actually stripped in real life, as compared to the age of his protege in the film, I wonder if the story of Adam, played by Alex Pettyfer, is actually Channing Tatum's story. That would make sense, as Tatum's Mike doesn't necessarily buck the image of a sensitive guy that has gained him a swooning female fanbase. In fact, maybe Mike's arc, of wanting to get out of a job that plays solely on his pretty boy aesthetic and pursue his own passions, is actually a projection of the actor's desired career path.

To speculate in such matters is a little useless, not least because analysing this film foregoes the appeal that most people got from the trailers- so, yes, there's a large amount of man-flesh on show. The choreography of the dances for all of the principal male cast, which includes Joe Mangianello and Matthew McConaughey, as well as Tatum and Pettyfer, is enough to make female audiences scream like they're at a hen do, and to make male audiences want to go to the gym and stay there till they feel a little less self-conscious. It's not the raucous good time that the trailer depicts, however, as much as it is a film of two halves.

The first half shows the glamour of the lifestyle, while seeding Mike's nice-guy personality and loftier aspirations- I think I actually sensed some women melting behind me in the cinema, when he declared his dream of making furniture out of flotsam and jetsam he finds on the beach- for the more narrative-driven second half. As the film goes on, the pitfalls of the lifestyle are thoroughly explored, and the ways in which stripping brings out the worst in Adam's personality. Happily, Reid Carolin's script makes room for some good humour in both parts.

Though never laugh-out-loud hilarious, there are some funny in-roads into the profession, particularly in one shot where Mangianello disrupts a character moment between Pettyfer and Tatum in the background, by doing something outrageous to primp himself in the foreground. There are also a good few jokes to be had from the goofy romance between Mike and Cody Horn's Brooke, the protective older sister of Adam, even though this is the limpest part of the film, (easy, ladies.) Special mention goes to McConaughey, who's also enjoying something of a career U-turn of late, with a boisterous and kind of sad role as Dallas, the 40-something proprietor of the strip club, and the very last thing that Mike wants from his future.

Magic Mike, as you would expect from a Soderbergh film, has some great performances from an occasionally unlikely ensemble, and the direction, editing and cinematography are all masterfully handled and co-ordinated. Perhaps because it's an unlikely topic, it still feels somewhat unexpected from Soderbergh, managing to sneak introspection on the topic of masculinity into a film that is ostensibly a slice-of-life comedy drama in which fit men take their kit off. Soderbergh does it so effortlessly, and impressively, that in spite of his protestations, I would be very surprised if he does decide to do a Mike, and quit being a superstar director in order to be a beach Womble or something.

Magic Mike is still showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Magic Mike, why not share your comments below? I'm especially interested to hear if any ladies broke the cinema code of conduct during this one- the (largely female) audience I saw it with were well-behaved, with only one whoop and plenty of giggling...
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

No comments: