Evanston RoundTable, July 19, 2012
If you love good movies, thank Steven Soderbergh for saving your summer. Yes, the season that brings you, year after year with depressing regularity, comic book retreads, animated kid pix, bad 3D horror sci fi fantasy flicks and lame, predictable rom coms.
But Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike” is none of the above. Instead it’s a smart, well-acted, serious little comedy-drama about a seemingly trivial subject. Based in Tampa, Club Xquisite is a men’s strip joint run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), a hunky stripper-turned-manager who choreographs his own shows and nurtures plans to grow the business. The eponymous Mike (Channing Tatum) is one of his discoveries. Mike is a complex character: by day he works construction and other jobs to make enough money to start his own business as a furniture designer. The fact that his stuff looks like something your kid could make doesn’t deter him (after all, they said the same thing about Jackson Pollack). He’s clever and funny, and yes, ladies, Mike’s got the moves.
On a roofing job he’s assigned to watch over a young newcomer, Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and invites him backstage at the club to help out and make a few extra bucks. In a pinch, Adam is recruited to go onstage, and to his and the mostly female audience’s delight, does a gyratingly good job as “The Kid.”
Mike takes Adam under his wing, and some of the best scenes are backstage, observing the dancers joke around, learn their routines and get “pumped up.”
In fact, one of the movie’s many great pleasures is watching the male dance numbers, “xquisitely” choreographed and set to bouncy house and electronic music. The packed female audience in the show I attended squealed in unison with the on-camera audience.
Also interesting is the fact that the story was derived from Tatum’s real-life experience as a male exotic dancer, and the movie benefits from seeming gritty and true to life. The club scenes are loud, boisterous and dynamic; the dancers’ backstage and offstage lives are sometimes hum-drum and often quite depressing. The drama of the movie is subtle and revolves around the interactions of Mike, Adam and Adam’s sister, Brooke, a nursing administrator who is hard-working, serious and sensible in contrast to the frequently clueless and aimless men.
The movie takes a glancing look at this phenomenon, one of the most interesting sociological trends of our time: the seeming role reversal of the genders. At one point Mike tries to romance a young professional, a woman a few weeks from becoming a therapist, but it’s clear she views him as a bedmate and not much more. More could have been made of this, but the movie isn’t aiming for weighty disquisitions.
Instead, the film is smart, LOL funny and fast-paced, thanks to a first-rate script by Reid Carolin, a North Shore Harvard graduate who with Tatum co-developed and co-produced “Magic Mike.”
This is a breakout role for Tatum, but it’s hard to single out just one great performance: Pettyfer is terrific as the shy, naïve and happy-go-lucky Adam and newcomer Cody Horn as Adam’s deeply caring sister Brooke is both deep and subtle while hardly appearing to act at all. It’s a joy to see young actors of this caliber. But perhaps the biggest revelation is McConaughey. While he’s had a journeyman’s career, stretching back to the early ’90s in almost 50 (!) feature movies, shorts and TV shows, the 43-year-old Texan leaps off the screen dancing, scheming, urging on his colleagues and acting as the pivot around which the movie turns in its examination of the strippers’ jobs and lives.
While “Magic Mike” isn’t altogether magical – the ending seems sudden and ambiguous, though not unrealistic (aren’t endings like that, sometimes?) – it’s a hot film leagues ahead of most everything else at the cineplex these hot days.