Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch
Ok, so I admit when this movie came out I made the “Oh sweet zombie Jesus! No!” face a lot. Then people I trusted started seeing it and coming back with some interesting comments about how it depicted male and female sexuality. So when the Best Girlfriend in the World asked me if I wanted to see it, I said sure!
For those of you living under rocks, Magic Mike is a film about male strippers, loosely based on Channing Tatum’s (the lead) experiences as a young male stripper in Florida. It stars Tatum in the lead role as Magic Mike, as well as Alex Pettyfer (Adam “the Kid”), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Matt Bomer (White Collar), Adam Rodriguez (CSI Miami), and Kevin Nash (WWE/TNA pro-wrestling) as the other male strippers. Matthew McConaughey plays Dallas, the strip club owner, and is, as always, delightfully creepy.
The film opens with Dallas giving his spiel before the ladies, then cuts to Mike getting out of a bed with a sleeping woman in it, soon though, you discover there’s another woman getting dressed, and it turns out he and the other woman have some sort of relationship going and they pick up other women for wild sex. This is not treated as exceptional or weird, it just is. And Olivia Munn as Joanna, does a great job of portraying “this is just business as usual.” In the course of his conversation with Joanna before he leaves for work, you find out he builds custom furniture from flotsam washed up on the beaches of Florida after big storms, and that’s his dream, to have a business doing that, in the meantime he roofs, has a car detailing business on the side, and, of course, strips. Although you don’t find that out for a little bit.
At work roofing, he meets Adam, who is a shiftless, drifting college dropout couch-touring with his sister. Adam works with Mike for one day, Mike gives him a ride home when his car dies, and odds are good they’d never meet again. But Adam runs into Mike outside a club, Mike gets him in but says Adam has to do him a favor, they meet some sorority girls out for one girl’s 21st birthday, and Mike gives them passes to the strip club. He convinces Adam to come along, they’ll find him something to do, and toss him a hundred or so bucks at the end of the night.
Adam goes, watches the women going nuts for the guys on stage, and when Tarzan (Kevin Nash) passes out in the back, Mike shoves Adam on stage and tells him to strip to “Like a Virgin” by Madonna. Pettyfer does a fantastic job of making it as awkward and uncomfortable as you can imagine, and the women eat it up. By the end of the song, he’s connected with the 21 year old he helped bring in, and he’s lap dancing her. The rest of the women go nuts. And Dallas offers him a job.
Now, I want to talk about the movie up until now. Joanna and Mike’s “arrangement,” not really a relationship, where they seduce other women is handled beautifully. At one point she starts to give him crap for not remembering the other girl’s name, but then it turns out she can’t either. And the director and cast do a tremendous job of making this a funny moment instead of some sort of scandalous, horrible, degenerate thing.
The reactions of the women in the strip club. I’ve been to male strip clubs and I can attest, women scream and yell, and holler and wave money in the air. It is a far different scene from female strip clubs (with male patrons), where, for the most part, the men sit quietly and don’t make a lot of noise really. It’s kind of creepy, honestly. But women are demonstrative in their appreciation of the dancers, and Magic Mike totally gets that right. It’s like inside male strip clubs is one place where heterosexual women can really BE demonstratively sexual without censure, it’s expected. And the women aren’t a joke in this movie. All types, hot, not so hot, heavy, thin… And the male stripper’s job is to make all those women feel like he wants each and every one of them. The scene where Dallas teaches Adam how to do the basic stripper moves in front of a mirror, including how to connect with the audience, is one of the funniest in the film. “Now, you fuck the hell out of that mirror for a couple hours.”
There’s one scene where Joe Manganiello’s character hurts his back lifting a woman who is too heavy for him that I could have lived without, honestly. But it’s a small thing and kind of quickly glossed over. While I’m sure shit like this does happen, because again, it’s their job to make all the women feel sexy, still could have done without it.
After establishing the basics, and introducing The Kid to the stripping world, the movie focuses more on Mike’s dreams and aspirations, and what he wants out of life and relationships. We see that he really wants to open that furniture business, and gets turned down for a loan because of his credit. We see him trying to engage with The Kid’s sister on a level other than sexual. His “relationship” with Joanna ends, because in his head he’s built it up way more than she has, then he runs into her and her fiance, who obviously knows the score and has zero problems with it. He’s completely unfazed by the hunky guy who showed, and gives them space to talk it through. And again, Munn does a fantastic job. She’s got far more acting chops than I ever gave her credit for.
I don’t want to tell you the whole movie, but it’s much more sensitive to issues of sexuality and relationships than I initially gave it credit for. Mike is truly a good dude just trying to make his dreams come true, Adam’s kind of a 19 year old idiot who will hopefully survive to pull his head out. The sister character, Brooke (Cody Horn), is well acted, but she’s mostly there to serve as an external anchor for Mike’s life changes in the story. I don’t think the story would have suffered without her, except that Mike would be going it alone, and we can’t have that, now can we, Hollywood?
I really enjoyed that in this film it was the guy (Mike) who equated sexual intimacy, or at least continued sexual intimacy, with emotional intimacy. Joanna makes it pretty clear even in just the few conversations they have that that isn’t what their relationship is for her. When he starts trying to ask her more questions about her life and what she’ll do when she finishes her degree (she’s a psychology student who came to the club to research behavioral patterns) during a booty call, she tells him that questions have always been off-limits, that all she needs him to do is be pretty, and then she leaves. She’s not cruel about it, but she’s very definitely setting some limits, and when he pushes them, she’s out.
And you can see when Mike meets her out with her fiance, that she really and truly regrets hurting him. She isn’t mean about it, but she’s very up front and straight forward, and like I said, it’s pretty obvious that the fiance knows the score. He excuses himself to the restroom to give them time to talk. It’s pretty obvious that Joanna tried to pull a slow fade (a trick frequently ascribed to guys trying to end a relationship without drama). And there’s no scene. Joanna tells him the truth, and Mike gets it, and leaves. He isn’t happy about it, but he doesn’t yell or hit anything, he just goes, and then gets completely wasted that night, picking someone up for a one night stand, taking Adam with him and setting the scene for a big confrontation with Brooke.
The sexuality of the strippers is never really called into question. I find it odd that none of them are gay. They’re all pretty blatantly heterosexual. But then it is a club that caters exclusively to the ladies, while most of the clubs I’ve seen have nights both for male and female clientele, and generally the strippers tend to be a mix as well.
I actually had a very good friend who was a male stripper. He’d come to the dance club where I worked because we had a pole (the one thing the club in the movie was missing. Trust me, women LOVE a man who can work that pole, every sexual innuendo intended). He’d come down to practice, and if I was there but not working, I would usually wind up “wearing” him for the evening to act as a buffer between him and the other women.
There’s something about men performing sexuality for women, as in the case of a strip club, that makes women more openly predatory towards them. And not always in a healthy way… It’s very difficult for a lot of women, who live in a world that really isn’t geared toward meeting our sexual needs, or marketing things sexually towards us (that Diet Coke Break commercial from 1994 notwithstanding), to switch gears comfortably or easily. And let’s face it, when marketing targets female sexuality, as opposed to the male gaze, people lose their shit. People are STILL angry about that Diet Coke Break commercial, 18 years later. And, honestly, it’s still the only commercial I could come up with that does directly use male sexuality to market to women.*
We don’t have a narrative for female sexual agency and demonstrative sexuality that isn’t playing to the male gaze, and so when you remove the male gaze, many women revert to the male narrative of predator/prey. If a man (the stripper) is putting himself out there as a sexual object, then he must be prey. This then makes the woman the predator. And many times they act accordingly. Female patrons of male strip clubs are more aggressively grabby on the whole, believe it or not. Or, as when my friend would practice at the club, outside that environment, when he presented as a sex object for women, they would be much, MUCH handsier with him than with any other guy at the club, hence him spending the night draped over my shoulders. Or we’d make out so that I was obviously “staking my claim” on him, so he could get through the night relatively unmolested.
So, after that slight digression: Magic Mike was a genuinely entertaining film with a refreshing take on sexuality, and pretty accurately depicts the up front reality of male strip clubs. As for the behind the scenes stuff, I can’t really say. My male stripper friend was kind of a health nut and didn’t do drugs or anything.
One more thing, hard to believe, yes, I know. I actually really enjoy strip clubs. I don’t see anything wrong with paying someone to treat you like you’re a sex goddess/god they’ll do anything to please, any more than I see something wrong with paying a psychologist or counselor to pretend to care about your feelings and bullshit troubles enough to help you solve them. But then again, we also know I’m largely pro-sex work. I just wish women felt as entitled to have their needs met as men did.
*The only other one I can come up with is the Fabio “I can’t believe it’s not butter” commercials, but those are more tongue in cheek, and not actually sexy. And also date from the 90s. Are there any recent commercials that play to the female gaze?