This weekend I watched Magic Mike, because what else are you going to do on a drunk gals’ weekend after watching (sober) three Oscar nominated films and surviving three hours in a snow related traffic jam? And knowing that a sequel is coming, and dammit, we have to catch up!
Which is to say: I watched Magic Mike.
Magic Mike has been called the "Citizen Kane of stripper movies," I guess because it's directed by Steven Soderbergh, stars a bona fide movie star, and perhaps most importantly, has men stripping instead of women.
Let me tell you, Magic Mike is no Citizen Kane of stripper movies. I strongly recommend you check out Gypsy, or I don't know, maybe Flashdance?
Magic Mike's unmemorable, unlikeable main characters and insipid plot drag, making the two-hour movie interminable. The movie is a mix of languid, lazy "art" shots during the "plot" portions of the story and frenetic, too-fast-to-follow cuts during the stripping performances, leaving the viewer bored and annoyed. The most interesting—or, at least, the best looking—characters are left in the background, with little to do and no reason to be in the story.
Magic Mike forgets it is at its…ahem…heart, is a dance movie. And that the thing about dance movies, even exotic dance movies, is that there needs to be a lot of dance and it needs to be good. Half-assed numbers do nothing for the audience.
You know, I could forgive the bad writing, the stupid cinematography, the half-fleshed characters, maybe even the lack of chemistry between the two romantic leads, if the dancing were good. If there was a really awesome showstopper.
Magic Mike’s showstopper, and its only real draw, that of watching famous actors get naked, is also its biggest disappointment — the only truly well produced stripping number is at the beginning of the film, literally at the end of the first act. The later stripping numbers and montages are...unsatisfying to say the least.*
Look, Magic Mike sells sex. And the big showstopper at the end of the first act? Well, that’s just pre-ejaculation.
It’s not like it would have been hard to really hit it out of the park, with a really terrific stripping number featuring the other guys cleverly intercut with Channing Tatum’s Mike, who has left stripping, dancing with Brooke (Cody Horn), maybe even in a workshop. It would have been satisfying and a symbolic representation that even though Mike has moved on to another life, the dance still exists, both within him and without him.**
I don’t get why they didn’t do this. It wouldn’t have been that hard to accomplish and without this (or a similar) ending, the movie feels incomplete. And I admit that I don’t watch a lot of stripper movies, but I do watch a lot of dance movies. I can’t think of a single one that ends so anticlimactically.
And so I have to ask: Why?
Is it because the filmmakers are uncomfortable with ending the film by objectifying men?
There aren’t a lack of movies about strippers, or movies with stripping or burlesque numbers. Truly, most feature women stripping, and often seen as D films (instead of Citizen Kane), but not all. In those I have seen, they do, in general, have a certain level of objectification of women that carries through to the ending number, even if the lead character has grown or developed. And this isn’t surprising in a society that is comfortable with sexualizing all women.
But we don’t do that to men, apparently. Not even men who are in a movie that is explicitly about being sexually objectified.
Magic Mike can’t even argue that it doesn’t objectify its characters at the end, because they are played by famous people who deserve better. Famous, established actresses perform in these types of films all the time. I mean, hell, even Dame Julie Andrews (yes, that Julie Andrews) has performed a burlesque scene. It’s tame by today’s standards, but it’s still out there.
So I have to figure that the reason there isn’t a big closing number is because sexually objectifying the male characters is seen as disempowering them, despite the fact that they are sexually dominant throughout the course of the story. The filmmakers couldn’t bring themselves to do undercut the men as sexual objects at the end of the film — even though it is a genre trope, at least in those films that feature female strippers — because even the hint that these men are not powerful is unacceptable.
Even more ironically, the movie does end with Mike asking Brooke out, but for an innocent date. Brooke takes the lead, and both kisses him and pushes for sex first, before they go out for food. Mike is, in the end, non-dominant in his relationship. But this is not underscored in any way, so this interpretation of the ending — that the dance that makes Mike sexual, and thereby emasculates him, actually makes him powerful — is a bit labored and dubious. And the point still could have been made in the ending I described above.
What’s sad about this is that by removing the showstopper, Soderbergh has subverted the film’s genre, so it’s not pleasurable. But even more distressing is that Soderbergh, a director who loves a good social criticism movie, doesn’t nail it there either. He spinelessly backs off real commentary, and leaves us with a bland, uninspired, and substandard experience…one that doesn’t even hit an acceptable level of raunch. Like a trip to the strip club, Magic Mike tantalizes and titillates, but doesn't consummate. It arouses, but leaves the viewer agitated and, ultimately, unfulfilled.
* Now, it may be that the filmmakers thought that the dance number with Matthew McConaughey’s character could be considered sufficient as a true show-stopping routine, but it was too short, had too much plot intercut, and simply wasn’t choreographed well enough to be a true spectacle.
** And, of course, it would have also nicely set up the sequel.
Soderbergh, Steven. Magic Mike. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. :, 2012. Film.