Tuesday, February 5, 2013

DVD of the Week: Magic Mike

Sometimes you end up watching films with some strange subject matters. Take Magic Mike, a movie set in the world of Male Strippers in Tampa, Florida, and a film whose marketing strongly emphasized the fact. I've no problem with movies about Male Strippers (in Tampa, or anywhere, really) but its not a subject matter that I'm in any way drawn to. Magic Mike, however, is directed by the prolific and diverse Steven Soderburgh, so on the list it went, and this week I found myself settling in with a bottle of win to watch it with Z, who was surprisingly attentive throughout...

I think the first thing to say is that its to the films credit that the stripping sequences are a central part of the movie. Given the general disparity on how mens and womens bodies are treated in the average Hollywood movie, I am in no doubt that a film about female strippers would put their routines "front and centre" but by treating its male leads the same way Magic Mike feels strangely distinctive in dealing with objectified male flesh. The show scenes are shot with blazing lights and thumping music, and a great sense of showmanship, but also oddly voyeuristic and uncomfortable, at least to me, and did raise the question of "is this how Z feels when we watch a movie full of half-naked women?". So if nothing else I acquired more Liberal Guilt about the experience.

Anyway, in many ways the plot of Magic Mike is pretty straightforward - an older character mentoring a younger one into a new world and lifestyle, younger one falls of rails, etc, with a healthy subtext about dreams vs reality which is mirrored in the contrast between the glitzy shows and the washed out, handheld-style "real life" sections of the film. Much of the film is surprisingly low-key, nicely acted and scripted character driven stuff that counterpoints with the bright lights and screams of men stripping. Its a clever cinematographic choice that really complements and adds to the storytelling.

Its the slower scenes that make the movie work - again, not that you'd think it from the advertising - and whilst all it's stars are certainly easy on the eye (I'm told) they all hold their own in the quieter scenes. Especially Channing Tatum, who I knew had decent comic chops but turns out has decent dramatic ones too, and Matthew McConaughey, making this the first interesting film I've seen him in for years, if ever.

In the end though, and despite all the dramatic bumping and grinding onstage, Magic Mike is a fairly gentle movie; for all the rough spots for the characters there never feels like any really high-stakes risk - emotional or physical - at work. Thats fine, really - the characters are mostly likeable, and it never takes the tone of something more savage or dangerous, but it means for me its an interesting, watchable film that I'm unlikely to go back to.