Throughout his career director Steven Soderbergh has delivered films, which not only tell fascinating stories but also introduce original characters to the audiences. He was first noticed at the Cannes festival in 1989 with Sex, Lies and Videotapes. Then in 2001, he became the first director in more than 60 years to have a double Best Director Oscar nomination – one for Erin Brockovich and one for Traffic. His films range from the extremely mainstream and successful like the stylish remake of Ocean’s Eleven and its subsequent sequels to the sci-fi/drama Contagion and the action-thriller Haywire of last year.
In his latest film, Soderbergh gives us an insight into the lives and doings of a group of male strippers. The title character, Mike (Channing Tatum), seems an average guy, who works in construction during the day and dreams owning a furniture design business. However, at night, he is one of the star dancers in Xquisite, a strip club owned by the slightly flamboyant (for a male stripper, that is) Dallas, played by Matthew McConaughey. The film really starts off when Mike meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), who has abandoned a scholarship and left college after an argument with his coach. However, the film sees the Kid (Mike’s nickname for Adam) evolve from the guy who sleeps on his older sister’s sofa to a confident performer at Xquisite.
The character closest to the audience’s perspective is the newcomer Adam but he is not the protagonist. Instead of following Adam’s ascend into the realm of male striptease, the film chooses to follow Mike’s life. He has already established himself as the most likely person to form a partnership with Dallas when the latter decides to move the business to Miami but the mistakes the Kid makes and the disapproval of Adam’s sister Paige (the lovely Cody Horn) open his eyes about his own situation in life. Horn’s quiet but stable performance as Paige, who never entirely understands her brother’s choice of occupation, doesn’t go unnoticed. Similarly, Xquisite is full of colourful characters, including McConaughey’s Dallas, who definitely deserves a place among the most memorable MCs in film.
…shows off the director’s ingenuity in finding an unconventional story in an already familiar, even cliched atmosphere…
Despite its subject matter the film refuses to take itself seriously, making a joke of the characters and their experiences as male strippers. We see all the usual cliches on stage – doctors, cowboys, soldiers, hip hop in hoodies, trench coats and an ‘It’s Raining Men’ dance routine. There is also the usual call from a couple of police officers at a sorority house. However, instead of eroticising the dance sequences the film treats them literally as the characters’ occupation and when one of the dancers (Joe Manganiello) pulls his back while on stage, this is an accident at the workplace.
All in all, Soderbergh’s Magic Mike proves that you don’t need a mega-budget to make an entertaining film (its budget was estimated at approximately seven million) and shows off the director’s ingenuity in finding an unconventional story in an already familiar, even cliched atmosphere. Although the main conflict doesn’t shine through immediately, it allows for the characters to develop and the audience to get to know them. Maybe some of the viewers will be disappointed by the indefinite ending, but with it the film confirms its structure as look at someone’s life. In the end, somewhere between the dancing and the humour the film still finds space for a subtle commentary on the economical issues of today’s society.