When this first came out, I was not particularly certain what the film would be beyond being about male strippers. Sitting in the theater to watch Magic Mike, I was absolutely thrilled to find that there was more to the film than just the stripping aspect. Granted, that selling point got me in the door, but the story made me want more. Channing Tatum plays the title character, Michael “Magic Mike” Lane, which utilizes pieces of Tatum’s actual life story. Channing Tatum has never been shy to discuss the path he took to Hollywood, and that is what made this story important to him. No doubt, this is also why two sequels were eventually financed, with all of the films produced by Mr. Tatum. Being able to tell one’s life story the way that you would want it to be told, even with certain liberties needing to be taken, is an important factor for me when it comes to films like this. Unless the person that the story is about or based on is dead, having them involved is critical. After all, it’s their story. Shouldn’t they be the ones to tell it? Even if only the part about him being a stripper is true, it makes for an interesting story.
Magic Mike is not shy about detailing the grit and grime that goes along with the glitz and glamour of the lifestyle of the stripper. Sex work is a facet of society that has always existed in one form or another. Whether or not actual sex is involved is entirely up to the people involved. Stripping is one side of that industry, and it is known to be a dangerous one – something the film does not ignore. Sex, drug use, and bodily harm are woven throughout the story, and the consequences that result from them are not shied away from. Mike, who is striving for a career making custom furniture pieces, has multiple jobs in order to keep himself afloat and work towards his passions – all of which are under the constant threat of falling apart, often due to the actions of others that are out of his hands. That sounds about right.
While the film does follow Mike, its focus character – through which the world of stripping is introduced to us – is Alex Pettyfer’s character, Adam, who takes on the name of The Kid when he joins Xquisite. The first half of the film seems to indicate that Alex will remain important, but most of his story arc is in tandem with Mike’s. The latter half of the film eagerly fades Adam into the background, showing that he is mainly the antagonist to Mike’s story. Mind you, I mean antagonist in the literary sense – Adam is problematic, and his life is a hot mess, but classifying him as a villain would be a step too far. This film has no villain because that’s not what the story is about. The difficulties of life are more villainous than any intrinsic force. That is, often, how life is – villains aren’t a constant presence, rather issues we cannot anticipate crop up that make it more difficult to do what we need to.
The major supporting characters include Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) as the owner of Xquisite and his litany of employees: Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash). Mike also has two primary love interests, Joanna (played by Olivia Munn) and Adam’s sister, Brooke (played by Cody Horn). The strippers of Xquisite are a family, close-knit and comfortable with one another, seemingly more so than Brooke and Adam, who are actually related. Granted, I am partial to found families and chosen families, and the five main guys are extremely close to one another in a way that male friendships are not usually portrayed on screen. While the sequel would provide far more characterization to Ken, Tito, Richie, and Tarzan, their presence in this film is not wasted. From the choreographed group routines to the montage of solos to the quiet moments in between, the way the core group of male leads glom together is much appreciated.
Magic Mike shows the various aspects of a stripper’s career. Dancing on stage for a crowd is one of the most well-known parts of the job, and partway through the film, we see what a private show is like. The former is presented as the safer part of the job, with the private show ending in a brawl between Adam, Mike, and the boyfriends of one of the attendees. It is that night which sends the film spiraling into its catastrophic finale (for the characters, the ending is bittersweet for the audience). Adam, as mentioned previously, proves to be a threat to all of the progress that Mike has been making, from before the film begins to after the film ends.
The dichotomy between how Mike and Adam are as people is showcased through their careers as strippers. Mike sees it as a pathway to the life he wants, building custom-made furniture, while Adam views it as a pleasure ride with no end. For these reasons, the level of risk that each is willing to take is centered on the reward that they want at the end of the road. Mike is not only more knowledgeable, but he is also aware of the consequences that come from his lifestyle. This is made readily apparent when Mike is denied a bank loan to start his company, despite having a business prospectus that proves his intellect, skill, and ability. Adam, meanwhile, continues on down a darker path, more interested in fame and drugs than stability. How the pair are introduced to one another is a clear display of this. Mike is careful with his brand-new car and dedicated to his work (whether it be stripping or construction), while Adam is negligent of his life’s most basic needs and quite literally willing to take advantage of those who take a chance on him. Adam’s lackadaisical approach to life was always foreshadowing how he would handle the more complex life and career of a stripper. Hint: not well.
In this film, the relationships between the characters is one of the most important parts of the film. Those moments in between the routines are what draw you into the world of Magic Mike. Whether it’s the hurricane party (an east coast phenomenon that was recently played up in Bodies, Bodies, Bodies) or the backstage moments, how these men interact with one another is key to its success. When Dallas and Adam spend time partway through the film, the dark seeds of their relationship are planted, and boy, do they bear fruit before the credits roll. When Ken, Tito, Richie, and Tarzan are introduced, it is as if they are getting ready for that night’s show, and they are clearly having the time of their life pulling Adam’s leg. All of it serves to break down his clear discomfort, for better or worse.
Magic Mike was not what people expected. The trailer did a great job of obfuscating the true plot, leading to many people attending the film with one understanding of the movie and leaving with another. That can be one of the best parts of the film-viewing experience. The film’s depth is never at war with its simplicity – the life of a stripper begins and ends the movie. How the audience views that, though, should have evolved as a result of viewing this film. I know it did for me.
With Magic Mike: The Last Dance on the way this weekend, it will most likely cap off the trilogy – similar to last week’s Fifty Shades – both of which were covered in a Random Review by myself in 2015, when I first began reviewing films. With Valentine’s Day behind us, and Black History Month on the road to completion, look to Black Panther next week. With any luck it, too, will be part of a trilogy of incredible, practically indelible, films.