Friday, June 19, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Magic Mike

Written for the series hosted by Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience. Check out what else is going on there - the magnificent actress Ann Dowd guest-hosted the site this week!

I was just watching Magic Mike this past weekend, trying to convince my boyfriend to see the sequel because the original was far better than it had any right to be, because it was a completely different film than any description of it might suggest. You hear the words "Channing Tatum male stripper drama" and you can't help but get a certain image in your head. Especially if you've seen clips of Matthew McConaughey's legendary performance. But Reid Carolin's script and Steven Soderbergh's direction subvert that at practically every turn. Magic Mike, based on Tatum's experience as a male stripper, is actually a whopper of a character study. That's probably because Tatum really KNOWS these people. Like, knows them on a deeper level than they probably know themselves. Constantly up on the take, these are "bros" who might aspire to something more... or would, if they had any ambition to change their lives or, you know, actually DO anything.
But what struck me most this time around was just how much the film is about the act of watching. The film's first scene is of Dallas (seriously, McConaughey is SO brilliant here) telling the audience that "the law says you cannot touch", follows it up with a glorious shot of Tatum's ass, and then proceeds to withhold the stripping for nearly half an hour. What a tease. Perfect for a film about stripping. But if you can't touch - and we in the movie theater or our home or wherever else we're watching the film certainly can't touch the dancers of the Xquisite revue - the only thing you can do is watch.

And the film is full of shots of people watching things - be they half-naked people or Joe Manganiello's giant dick in a penis pump or something else entirely. It comes close to being an indictment of the audience and their expectations/demands. Sort of, "Oh, you thought this was going to be a hootin'-hollerin' good time? An easy-breezy summer skin flick? How dare you expect so little of us! Oh we'll give you what you want, but you may not want it when we do."
Best Shot Runner-up; we've never seen dance from this angle before!
When we do get to the stripping, it feels weird. It's not what we expect. It feels low-rent, and a little cheesy - but not in a good way. Not in a Showgirls way, either. It's enough to make you feel JUST bad enough about not only watching, but wanting to see it. Not so much that you don't enjoy it, but enough to make you feel the tiniest bit guilty about it. It's a clever trick, actually, and Soderbergh is a wizard in how he pulls it off. The yellow tint of the cinematography makes the whole film feel like Florida - hot and muggy and draggy. The retro soundtrack gets you revved up but also makes you feel a bit nostalgic. The shots are mostly wide, and the editing isn't fast really, but it cuts enough to make you wish it would stay on its subjects a bit longer, so you can really appreciate their great dancing (and their great bodies).

And so all of this is why I chose this as my Best Shot. When Cody Horn's Brooke shows up at the revue to see if what her brother Adam (Alex Pettyfer, perfectly cast for once in his life) told her about his new job was actually real, she doesn't know what to expect. And when his new best friend/mentor Mike tells her to stay and watch the rest of the show, she's dismissive. But then as she's about to leave, she hears the crowd go wild for Dallas's intro for "Magic" Mike. And then Ginuwine's "Pony" starts up, and Mike starts dancing, and she can't quite look away.
And as the dancing/stripping continues, we keep coming back to that closeup of her, getting slightly closer each time, watching every emotion flicker across her face just like the lights in the club. She thinks it's ridiculous. She thinks it's hot. She likes it. She's surprised she likes it. She hates herself for liking it. She hates the other women for liking it. She hates Mike for being so damn fine. People gave Cody Horn a lot of shit for this performance, but looking at this shot I don't get it. Yes, she's a bit affectless, but that's the character. She's a perfect foil for Tatum in her low-key naturalism, and when she lets loose with that smile, she makes you feel like you've earned it - completely key in selling this character as someone Mike would be interested in.

I don't think there's been a single shot in recent times that so thoroughly shows the audience their reaction to watching the movie in which it takes place. It's genius, and completely essential to the film, giving us all that we need to see that maybe Brooke isn't a complete stick in the mud, and that she and Mike might actually be good for each other. It's the key to the whole movie: Screw up this moment, and the film fails. But it's Soderbergh, so he knows how important this moment it is and nails it. Far be it from me to advocate taking time away from watching Channing Tatum dance, but this shot is worth it.


  1. Perfect shot choice!

    I didn't really like this one that much...I mean, I hear what everyone is saying about the character study here...but I just don't see it. That said, you are so right about the depiction of the stripping and the way it makes us feel that I'm now understanding that whole thing better...and I want to watch this again :-P

    1. Thanks man! I take you wanting to watch it again a high compliment! :)