Monday, July 2, 2012

Film Review: "Magic Mike" (****)

Matthew McConaughey takes the stage, back to the camera as he takes his passion to the crowd of screaming girls. As he peruses his own body, gloriously drinking in the glory of himself as the audience is, he repeatedly asks the question, "Can you touch this?" That seems to be the question that Soderbergh and company are faced with in "Magic Mike", as everyone is heading into this with certain preconceptions regarding what they will be seeing. I walked in knowing nothing other than the simple fact of Channing Tatum playing a male stripper, which seems like such a coy play for laughs, and could easily end up as such in another world.

Fascinatingly enough, the thing that puts "Magic Mike" automatically on the right course is the least thing you'd be expecting, that being Channing Tatum. The word that this film takes cues from Tatum's earlier career has not escaped audiences, but that brings a certain honesty to the table that would otherwise not exist. Even more respectable of Tatum is his refusal to put himself at the center of this world, building other elements to the world Mike inhabits. The film is absolutely his story, but everyone involved is working desperately to remove that imposition, not for the loss of personality, but for the sake of the audience it is made for.

Alex Pettyfer serves as our lead-in into this world after the characters and setting are well established, playing the lazy and ignorant Adam. He's in that midsection of not having any real plans for life, and not quite interested in figuring that out just yet. Walking into the rather unassuming world of male stripping, corny as it may sound, does offer a legitimate escape from those choices in lieu of a straight shot the male ideal. That's something that occurs to you rather early on that this profession isn't a floozy and homosexual sort of thing. It's not nearly as insecure as the men entering this film have so quickly labeled it.

This is a rather interesting studio feature in that it subtly hints at more important themes, without sticking to them as overtly as an art house flick might. The characters put forward aren't straight shots of singular intent, but continuously conflicted given their circumstances. It's more than simply admirable for a film to give its characters opinions that might not square with the audience's, but "Magic Mike" makes some daring moves in leaving some of its strands dangling, because a film can't be expected to wrap up all the issues in a single life. It can only get characters to where they need to be given where they started.

Of course what really brought the film home was the frankly astonishing performances from all involved. Alex Pettyfer finally rises to his own potential, both in character and career, really chronicling the rise of a certain way  of thinking that's rather popular nowadays. It's the mindset of doing what's easy, profitable, and most fun for as long as it'll carry you, and Pettyfer nails that juvenile selfishness bordering on adulthood, but railing against it. Matthew McConaughey is something else this time around, really sinking into the metrosexuality of that lifestyle, caressing each and every moment of his own masculinity, and asking that everyone who follows him do the same. It's the sort of skeezy work the man was simply born to play, and would make a good note of taking as often as possible.

Cody Horn was quite the fantastic surprise from my end of thinking, playing the worrisome sister of Pettyfer's character, and as things progress taking a larger function in the flow of the film. She's rather careful in how she handles her scenes, and not in a way that is faux-finicky as is the case with Kristen Stewart. There's a pulse to her voice, and a sass to her expression. But who are we kidding? The real star of this show is Channing Tatum, who really rises to the occasion dramatically. Earlier this year has had him milking action, romance, and comedy, but he deals with very tough internalized emotions in "Magic Mike". You see that come through in every moment he's onscreen, and it's not some phoney act. He's done a career 360 in less than six months, and we're just watching in awe.

Truth is that "Magic Mike" is the perfect film to close out Channing Tatum's successful stream of this year, because it's essentially the desire for something more honest and true to self. The film doesn't try aggressively to be something it isn't, much thanks to Soderbergh's inquisitive and carefully masked direction. He works hard so that you don't see his finger over the lid. The screenplay works out the themes of the film without retreading them tediously over and over again. The stripping sequences do have a way of working in ironic satire and character notes. In the end, "Magic Mike" a film that catches you off guard, and then has you for two hours to work its magic on you.

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