Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Magic Mike" (2012)

*This post is part of the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" blogathon at The Film Experience*

The sticky North Carolina summer has finally arrived here, with temperatures reaching well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, this week's selection "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" naturally turns up the heat even more. Magic Mike, upon its release in 2012, happened at the intersection of three different extra-textual threads. Director Steven Soderbergh had announced his retirement from filmmaking several months prior, yet was amazingly on his fifth film in three years and his third in an eight-month stretch (he is still working today, thanks to his Cinemax series The Knick; it seems he's not great at retiring). Channing Tatum, who at the beginning of 2012 was best known for being the hunk from the Step Up movies, experienced a breakout year, scoring hits with romantic drama The Vow, raunchy comedy 21 Jump Street, and finally this film. He not only proved himself as a box office draw, but also as a talented thespian; without these films, he wouldn't have landed later films, including his best performance to date in last year's Foxcatcher.

Magic Mike is not just designed to be a vehicle for Tatum's talents, it was also based on his past as a stripper. Mike (Tatum) is a jack-of-all-trades living in Tampa; in addition to stripping, he also works as a construction worker, owns a detailing company, and designs his own custom furniture. One day he comes across Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old kid who's directionless and living on his sister Brooke's (Cody Horn) couch. Mike sees the potential in Adam, and invites him to come to the Xquisite Male Revue. Adam proves himself to have a natural ease, and soon enough he's become one of the Cock-Rockin' Kings of Tampa as well.

There's a lot of terrific things at work in this film (it's easily among Soderbergh's best). It works well as an allegory for hard economic times, with Mike multiple business ventures still not enough to truly make a living and the Tampa setting being the perfect depressing, sun-dappled almost-paradise for this tale of a man past the age of his party-all-the-time lifestyle. It's also a terrifically entertaining comedy, with the humor coming more from Tatum and Pettyfer's natural bro-tastic chemistry than from actual jokes. And, of course, it's a tanning-oil-stained collage of glistening male flesh, all the fun of a strip club without having to actually go to one.

But it's the third thread that makes the film truly shine. It was here that the McConaissance peaked: after a steady stream of great performances in a variety of films, Matthew McConaughey steals the show here as Dallas, the slick owner of the club and charismatic ringleader of this motley crew. It's no wonder that he's the focus of the film's opening frame: he's laying down the law, announcing himself as the star of this film.

More after the jump.

McConaughey's power as an actor comes from his natural laid-back charisma. In each and every role he plays, he comes across as an everyman who's just as likely to share a beer with you as he is to star in a summer blockbuster. And for the role of Dallas, he cranks that charisma up to eleven, making every movement a seductive maneuver and every word drip with sex and temptation. He's referred to several times by Mike as a "rattlesnake," and it's an apt nickname: he's a true serpent, flicking his tongue with alluring words and promises of greatness only to sink his venomous fangs into you. He's a charmer with bite.

Take, for example, the early scene in which Dallas trains Adam in how to properly dance onstage. He asks the kid to strip, and when he's displeased with the ungraceful result ("like a twelve-year-old in the fucking locker room"), he decides to show him how its done. It's a masterfully shot sequence, with McConaughey essentially dry humping his own reflection in the mirror, and it's the actor's total commitment to the physicality of the moment that makes the whole thing work. But he's also given a terrific monologue, one that McConaughey sells with absolute gusto.

"You are the man. On the stage. Thousands of women. Eyes on you. You are their vision. So, what do you do? You don't just fucking throw your clothes off. You fucking make it count.
 "You walk out, you own it. You look around. You tease. You seduce. Clock eyes, but don't lock in on any of them.
"You got to believe that you are inside every single one of them.
"And when the time's right, you'll know it.
"Foom! Stick it. That right there is like hitting the G-spot every single time. Now get up in there, move around. You see, baby, you're not just stripping. You are fulfilling every woman's wildest fantasies. All right? You are the husband they never had. You are that dreamboat guy that never came along. You are the one-night stand, that free fling of a fuck they get to have, tonight, with you onstage, still go home to their hubby and not get in trouble because you, baby, you made it legal. You are the liberation."

It's interesting that Magic Mike follows last week's selection of Amadeus, because there's a clear parallel between the characters of Salieri and Dallas. Both men are manipulative and devious, cheating their proteges out of better lives in service of their own interests. But where Salieri was consumed with envy of his younger charge, Dallas is simply a merchant of fantasies, better at making promises of good times to come than keeping them (it's also hard to imagine Salieri going onstage in a thong). As I wrote in my entry for Magic Mike in the 2012 Jarmo Awards, Dallas is a "drawling stripper Svengali;" by the time the film ends, he's onstage himself, doing his own dirty work and drawing the cheers of the crowd, a showstopper in his own right.

*Best Shot*

Ultimately, however, he's the devil in a pair of assless chaps. And I picked the above shot because it feels like the perfect embodiment of McConaughey's performance and Dallas' role in the club. He's positioned in the very back of the lineup, eyes determinedly looking forward, the man pulling the strings on their lives. It's a subtle moment that speaks volumes: the devil you know, ready to whisper sweet temptations in your ear. Regardless of whether his promises of paradise in Miami come true or not, he'll no doubt always find a crowd to sway. After all, charisma this powerful cannot be contained; that's just as true for McConaughey as it is for Dallas.

1 comment:

Ryan T. said...

I love your pick! The colors/costumes are riveting.