My coworker and I were talking about a recent New York Times article describing the gay community’s enjoyment of Magic Mike, the new movie about a male strip club in Florida; he joked that maybe when I went to review the film, I’d be the only straight woman in a sea of homosexual men. As it was, I was the only woman under 65 in an audience of about 40 females. The white-haired ladies thoroughly enjoyed—to the point of hooting and hollering—the gyrations and snazzy moves of the chiseled gents onscreen, whereas I was left somewhat shocked and bug-eyed by the experience.
Magic Mike isn’t just about re-creating the strip-club experience, however. Rather, it’s an ingenious depiction of the American dream, circa now, in that bastion of tradition and solid working-class values, Florida. (I kid, of course, but only about Tampa.) Channing Tatum, on whose early career the script is somewhat based, is the title character, a charismatic if aging (for this racket) male dancer whose dazzling moves and presence combine with genuine likeability and social competence so that he’s accessible, real, and capable of respectability. He’s saving his tips—carefully flattened under heavy volumes—to start a custom furniture business, while managing the books for club owner Dallas (a preening, flamboyant and utterly show-stopping Matthew McConaughey), who promises him equity in the big-time Miami club he hopes to open. In the meantime, Mike puts on a naughty show featuring umbrellas, prop guns and anything else supporting the phallus-related fantasies of adoring throngs of female audiences.
It’s abundantly clear to the viewer that Dallas is looking out only for himself, and that as smart as Mike is, he’s in for a crushing blow. Still, we engage with the character, who takes the aimless Adam (Alex Pettyfer), soon known as the Kid, under his wing, and befriends his skeptical, hardworking sister Brooke (Cody Horn). While director Steven Soderbergh wants us to feel the fun and spectacle of the male revues—and, indeed, they are quite entertaining, if off-putting—he’s stealthily providing us a story of another stripe. How does one get ahead, and what qualifies as success, especially in an era dominated by instant online access to everything once kept sacred and private? Mike clearly views his dancing as a temporary stepping stone, and yet, as Brooke points out, he’s 30. In a mesmerizing if painful, scene, Mike dons glasses and a suit to try to get a small-business loan.
The movie’s joke is that for all his bookkeeping and carpentry talents, Mike’s most marketable skill is his ability to shake his booty, which in turn underscores how watching handsome guys strut their stuff seems (to me, at least) somehow shocking, whereas seeing women do the same is alarmingly par for the course. Magic Mike shows, without moralizing, the way easy access to money, sex and drugs can impact lives. Olivia Munn, in a tiny part, is shattering as a party girl who realizes the depth of her loneliness, and Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough, in another small part, is spookily memorable as a girl Mike wisely advises a feckless Adam to avoid like the plague. Tatum continues to impress: He’s the stereotypical hunk with abs of steel, but his soulfulness and solidity literally flesh out the fantasy of the movie.