While most people might be waiting for Spiderman or The Dark Knight Rises to be the movie event of the summer, the one film I have been thinking about is Channing Tatum and Steven Soderbergh's Magic Mike. There is more to this film than meets the eye. Of course the guys know that the subject matter is exciting. Having Tatum, Matthew McConaughey, True Blood's Joe Manganiello -- his character's name is Big Dick something or other -- and youngin Alex Pettyfer strip in a mainstream film is something to talk about. And it's cool that the guys are now on display, in roles that formerly would go to women; the skin that is going to sell the tickets is primarily male skin. This kind of role reversal is in tandem with Judd Apatow's new interest in female comedians. With Bridesmaids and Girls, he has proven to the current generation -- although it should have been done ages before -- that women can be funny without having to play the cliché roles of lovelorn questers in search of the perfect man. Soderbergh and Tatum have shown that men too can be sex objects. When I was in acting school I heard countless times from strippers and ex-strippers that they had done it to make money and now had tons of stories to tell and were working on screenplays. Well, first Diablo Cody and now Channing Tatum have also passed through the world of strip clubs to the respectable world of movie making with Oscar caliber collaborators -- which I think is the more interesting story about this film. The stripping that is portrayed in the film is nothing that can't be found on any night in most major cities. Maybe Magic Mike's crew has a little more flare than the average group of strippers, but it's still about the basics -- showing the gyrating naked male body. What is different here, however, is that these moves are captured by Steven Soderbergh, and that it is a project that was conceived, championed and as far as I know paid for, by Tatum and Soderbergh.
According to Jonah Hill, Soderbergh and Tatum split the cost of the film, which makes it infinitely more interesting. Within the film Tatum's character, Magic Mike, is a stripper/entrepreneur who hopes to make enough money from his numerous side jobs (construction, stripping, mobile device design -- I think) to start a business doing his real passion: custom furniture design. Sadly, his furniture designs are not so great, and he doesn't have enough credit to get a loan, so he is banking on the stripping team leader (Matthew McConaughey) Dallas's big plans to move the business from Tampa to a self-owned establishment in Miami where everyone will have equity in the company. This film is not simply an exposé of Tatum's former life as a stripper. It can be read as a veiled representation of his time in Hollywood as a pretty boy leading man searching for artistic validity. If Magic Mike needs to use his body and good looks (stripping) in order to pay for the art he really cares about (furniture design), can't this be read as Tatum going through the motions of Dear John and The Vow to become a creator of his own destiny as the producer and champion of Magic Mike, a film that capitalizes on his beauty while at the same time frames it as a curse? We all love a film that shows the underdog rise to the top, but we like to criticize formulaic plots. This film, however, is above its plot, because it is not so much about how things add up for these characters as it is about how this movie does for Tatum. The real underdog story is not about a stripper trying to get out of the game; it's about a talented actor trying to take control of his career. And he's smart enough to know how to use his strengths in a film of his own creation with enough aplomb to go head to head with the studio fare of the summer. I really don't care if Magic Mike ends up making his wacky furniture. I just want Magic Channing Tatum to walk away a champion by making a personal film.
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