For a film all about male strippers, Magic Mike sure has a lot of charm, wit, and mostly clothed characters in it. Director Stephen Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin took real life inspiration from star/producer Channing Tatum to tell an atypical version of the old superstar/apprentice boilerplate.
Tatum’s Magic Mike takes Adam under his tutelage to help Adam make a better life for himself through stripping. Adam dropped out of college after losing a football scholarship and crashes at his sister Brooke’s house. He meets Mike by chance and, by equal chance, Mike falls head over heels for Brooke. Brooke makes Mike promise to protect Adam from the darker side of the city but Adam wants to experience everything.
Magic Mike is a film with a lot of heart and character. The workers of Xquisite and their friends and lovers are good people; they’re just flawed. They try to enjoy life as best as they can while dealing with the reality that they only have what they have because of their bodies. Most of the regulars at the club have addictions of one kind or another and the behavior only gets worse when they get together.
The big twist on the star is born format is the character of Magic Mike. He wants to do something else. Stripping is a means to an end, not the end itself. He saves every dollar he makes to start a respectable business and actually do something with his life. Mike is the star of the club because the money is convenient. He has no problem bringing someone else into the lifestyle because he knows how good the money is. He just knows that living off his body and sex appeal doesn’t actually satisfy him.
This twist is what gives Magic Mike power. There are a whole lot of cliches and tired plot points that begin to take over in the second half. The first half, though, is so wildly inventive, funny, heartfelt, and filled with unexpected but believable character choices that you can easily gloss over the less substantive conclusion.
Soderbergh adds a lot of style to the story that also helps to elevate it. Life is brightest inside the club, but most of the story takes place in the yellow, faded light of day. For so many of the characters, the club is their only source of joy or satisfaction. The real world lacks the same pizzazz and star quality even when the characters are acting like they’re having a good time. It’s a subtle device that really brings out a great sense of tension when the story takes a turn for the cliched.
Magic Mike is a fun, heartfelt drama about a man trying to make a better life for himself. Sure, the male stripper play a big role in the film with all the bumping and grinding you would expect. The film just wisely chooses to focus on character over sensationalism before the first pair of pants are torn away.
Thoughts on Magic Mike?