Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Review: Magic Mike - The Stripper Film

So in an attempt to write more - to record more about what's inside my head, and also to help myself learn to write concisely, I'm going to try and write down my thoughts on each movie I watch from here on out - for the next month, 6 months, a year. Some posts will be about the first time I'm seeing the movie, some will be about re-watches. Thrilling. Here goes:

Magic Mike (2012)
watched 1st September, 2012 

first time seeing it

First off: despite the hype, it needs to be stated that there was not a single moment in this movie where I was titillated. I'm pretty sure that was intentional on the part of the film-makers - I mean, I'm certain many men and women who are attracted to men would find this movie appealing and just used it as an excuse to giggle and squeal, but I think that if you went to see the movie through that gaze, you might have missed the actual point of it, and - while I'm sure they helped box office sales - after seeing the film, I'm even more certain that the people who went for the eye-candy were not the intended audience of Magic Mike. 

I was interested in seeing Magic Mike because I'm generally interested in exposure to alternative or taboo lifestyles (even though I'm really prudish IRL, Secret Diary of a Callgirl is one of my favourite shows ever,) and the small snippets of dialogue in the trailer proved to me that this really was a film about that, not a film about looking at men's bodies. 

I found Magic Mike to be really raw, raw in a good way, with very natural dialogue. In the last few years, some films and TV shows have finally actually been able to write words that sound normal, that sound real, that sound like the way people actually talk, and get the actors to deliver them ways that SOUND normal and natural. Do you know how rare that has been? For the majority of Hollywood history, (contemporary British entertainment has always done a lot better on this front, but that's a rant for another day) people haven't actually talked the way they do in real life - even in a 'realistic' movie like a biopic or a rom-com or anything set modern day. There's always been an element of it being thought out, and written, which of course it was, and sometimes that's a good thing because writers have the skill of taking the feelings we want to express and articulating them in ways that we just can't say, especially off the top of our heads. So we turn to quoting things, such as these films, to express what we mean in ways that have already been written for us and resonated with us. 

But lately, in the last 5 years or so - I'm sure older examples exist, but I'm noticing it more and more now - people have actually started making films where the characters talk like real humans, and I find it much more immersive and effective. Even in comedies, where obviously people are funnier than in real life - the film No Strings Attached and the show New Girl (both written by Liz Meriwether) spring to mind. Even in superhero films - the realistic, natural performance of Andrew Garfield just playing a derpy teenager was the best thing about The Amazing Spider-Man. For lack of a better word, certain film-makers are making their films - or at least the dialogue and delivery by the actors, if not the plot - less over-dramatic. And I'm really, really into that. I'm sure some people find it boring, but for me I'm constantly air-punching over it. 

This quality abounds in Magic Mike, particularly in all the interactions between Mike, the lead character, and Brooke, the sister of his young workmate. Sometimes, the conversations are downright awkward, like Brooke doesn't know how to talk to the boys - not in a blushing virgin way, just in a 'I don't know what to talk to you about' way. And that's realistic. She's a medical assistant and her brother and his new best friend are male strippers and they keep hanging out with her. In real life, there would be plenty of moments where, in that situation, the conversation would be awkward. And in a movie, traditionally, people would be cooler and smoother than in real life, and they'd be funny, sassy, snappy and they'd be able to talk because they'd been written that way. However, this film looked at the reality of a situation like this and really seems to have written that reality. I appreciate that.

The plot was interesting enough, and I do like the fact that Channing Tatum pitched this movie involving some of his own experiences as a stripper in order to draw back the curtain on the industry a little. I think it worked very well, and showed a good deal of the behind-the-scenes of this alternative lifestyle - the backstage, the business, the rehearsals, the social interactions from the (possibly expected) drug-fuelled orgy parties to the much more laid back and fun beach trip which could have been taken by any group of workmates and friends who had access to a boat. It did a good job of showing that while the lifestyle did have the expected amount of dirt and glamour, that the people involved are normal. It shows what quick 'fame' or success can do to people, with The Kid going from insecurity to arrogance and then carelessness pretty fast. But I just really liked the character of Mike, I liked his relationship with the psychology student Joanna and how he chose to keep going back to her for hookups rather than taking girls from the bar. It was a sign of his search for something in his life with more meaning, that he wants to trust and befriend people, and that he doesn't take advantage of the 'benefits' of the lifestyle of his job. But it isn't done in a way that makes him some beacon of purity. There's no moment in the film where there's any 'oh, these are my morals, I'm a stripper but I don't do THAT' - he's just a normal and decent guy who pretty much lives by the Wil Wheaton law of 'don't be a dick.' And it's a little painful to see him doing that and for people, like Brooke and the bank manager, to not give him credit for that, or for them to expect him not to be decent.

If I wasn't sure from the trailers, the ending and its lack of resolution made me certain that this was meant to be a pithy film. We don't know what happened to Adam, The Kid, whether he moved on with the club and became the new 'Mike' - he has no real redemption, either. We don't know whether Joanna was engaged the entire time she knew Mike - but I liked that his discovery of the situation hurt him, though, even though his true feelings were for Brooke. It is another example of this man not wanting to feel used and abused, that his job is not his personality and how problematic it is for him when people assume that he feels a certain way because of what he does for work. At the end, he does get Brooke, but that's where we leave them - no resolution regarding his choice to leave the club and the fact he's spent all his money to save the ungrateful Kid. I suppose we're meant to assume he stays in Tampa and finds a way to make ends meet, making furniture and enjoying Brooke, but I was reminded strongly of another Soderbergh film, Erin Brockovich, where the ending is mostly in place but the last scene is Erin approaching the door of her ex, so we don't know the resolution to every issue in the story. There's a pretty decent assessment that the difference between entertainment and art, a movie and a film, is that a movie ends, but a film stops, and if you go by that rule, Magic Mike is a pretty great film. 

Also: tiny tiny pig! I will save you, tiny pig, from Elvis Presley's manic pixie dream girl granddaughter who feeds you drugs and vomit. OMG, if I was squealing over anything in Magic Mike, it was in every moment featuring the TINY PIG.

Next up: Spice World. Yeah.

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