Magic Mike is about male stripping similarly to how Boogie Nights is about the porn industry. Both are stylized, drama-centered pieces of filmmaking that take two seemingly lucrative and subversive professions, and twist them on their heads.
Paul Thomas Anderson delved into the realities of making porn darker and deeper than we’d even seen – Steven Soderbergh has roughly the same objective for Magic Mike.
The aforementioned title character (played by Channing Tatum) is a veteran in the business of male stripping, operating under only the manager, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). While Mike is moonlighting as a construction worker he meets an ostensibly incoercible 19 year-old named Adam (Alex Pettyfer).
Adam, who sports a piss attitude, Abercrombie-like model looks, and plethora of sorrow after loosing his college football scholarship when he punched the coach on the first day of practice, takes a liking to the materials and perks that come with being a male stripper (plenty of women, easy cash, and a whole lot of confidence). Fit for the job Dallas hires him on the spot.
Magic Mike naturally contains an affable amount of dance numbers that will have every teenage girl in the audience squealing and aroused. Unfortunately for them, Soderbergh slowly drifts away from the montages of male strippers accentuating their genitals with tight clothing and workouts where each member of the group (one of whom is named Big Dick Richie) contains a 78-pack of abs, and instead colors the dark side of the playing field.
Male stripping isn’t all money, sex, and drugs – they’re ramifications for Mike and Adam. In particular Mike who (beyond dancing for women) has ambitions to become an entrepreneur that runs a custom furniture business. His dreams are ultimately questions by Adam’s responsible sister (Brooke played by the lovely Cody Horn) and hindered by the banks that can’t (due to his credit) offer him competitive loans.
And so the show goes on. Dallas has grand plans to move his actively progressing business from the wondrously photographed Tampa to Miami in a few months. As the days pass our characters evolve. The once upon a time stubborn and quiet Adam has now become a speed obsessed addict, disrespecting his sister Brooke – who may or may not have feelings for Mike. Speaking of Mike, Tatum effortlessly advances his character’s hopes and desires.
Magic Mike was once content with spending his nights having a good time. But he’s thirty now, and much like anyone at that age, he’s beginning to put his life in perspective.
While much of the credit must go the ingenious Southern born filmmaker, Tatum is playing a character he knows all too well (before being discovered as an actor, he was a male stripper). Autobiographical as it may be, Magic Mike steers clear of conventions.
Soderbergh conforms to only his vision for Mike and Adam – a character arch and inevitable future valuable enough that I won’t reveal it here. The film never dives into the depths of tragedy and heartbreak that Boogie Nights accomplished in 1997: few films do.
Nevertheless if Steven Soderbergh is truthful when proclaiming his retirement after the release of The Bitter Pill in 2013, Magic Mike is quite the accomplishment of a male-stripper character study executed with verve and passion, relishing in recklessness and uncertainty, and ultimately concluding with sadness and hope.