I was seriously derided by member's of my wife's family for tweeting that I enjoyed this movie. It's no classic, that's for sure (and I'll get to that in a moment) but it was a pretty darn good movie. As I was watching it, I turned to my wife and said, "This reminds me a lot of 'Boogie Nights.'"
As I think on it, it was more like BOOGIE NIGHTS Light and I think that was part of the appeal to me. BOOGIE NIGHTS is one of my favorite movies of the last 20 years. I think it's a great example of a modern epic. No, really. We use the word epic all wrong these days but this isn't one of these times. BOOGIE NIGHTS was an epic movie along with being a modern classic. Make no mistake, MAGIC MIKE doesn't approach BN in scope or quality, but they are both similar movies exploring similar themes while playing with similar tropes, to varying degrees of success and failure.
What I Liked:
- Matthew McConaughey: In a forest of wooden performances, McConaughey stands head and shoulders above the rest. McConaughey is often cast as the kind of guy that men want to hang out with and women want to be with. He is always likable in his roles and is the guy you are rooting for the entire time. For the first time that I've seen him, McConaughey is playing unlikable and doing it well. He's still got that likable thing going on, but he's so sleazy and sneaky in this movie. He's on the cusp of being a washed up exotic dancer but clutching to it like a piece of flotsam. He owns the role, more concerned with the money he's earning than what happens to his men while seeming to care about the men. For a guy that makes his bread and butter by playing likable guys, his two most memorable roles are creeps, this one and as Wooderson. If Burt Reynolds got an Academy Award nod for playing Jack Horner, I have no idea why McConaughey didn't for Dallas. Seriously.
- Seedy Underbelly: We all love movies about the things we don't want to talk about. That's why gangster movies are so popular. And we continue to go deeper, look at TV shows like BREAKING BAD and SONS OF ANARCHY or the rise of "grimdark" in fantasy literature. We like the dark, seedy underbelly of society. The dark places we don't want to go and taking your clothes off for money is part of the dark underbelly, only to be found under layers of glitter, baby oil, spray tan and who knows what else. Like all with life, things intersect especially in the dark recesses of the sex business. And they are places many of us, in the darkest places in our minds that we don't want to admit exist, are drawn to and fascinated by them. This movie takes us to one of those places.
- Band of Brothers, So To Speak: If you read my previous post about being able to tell I wrote something, you know that one of the themes that I often explore in my own writing is the bond between men. MM deals heavily with this issue and really latches on to it in a bunch of different ways. Mike is responsible for The Kid throughout the whole movie. He is the reason The Kid gets into the business and there is a strong bond between the two characters because of this. They become brothers and constant companions...until they don't. The dancers as well are a band of brothers, united under Dallas as a member of his company, bonding together and responsible for one another. When something happens to one, there is no hesitation by the others to help out. The entire final third of the movie is about the dissolution of this bond and the damage it can cause to these men.
- Futility of Dreams: If there is a great American theme in literature and cinema, it is the realization that our dreams don't always come true and in all likelihood our dreams will never come true, no matter how hard we work. It's a hard truth sometimes, but it's also reality. The characters in this movie are all lower middle class, blue collar types that probably didn't have much of a chance at anything anyway. We don't get much background about the characters, but there's certainly an implication about their histories and where their dreams went off the tracks. It's a fascinating study to say the least.
- Men As Sex Objects: While this isn't my cup of tea, it's nice to see a movie where we aren't just ogling naked women. Also, the plot line between Mike and his gal pal Joanna was well done. The hurt that Mike feels when he realizes what he is to her is brilliant and one we've seen a thousand times from the other end.
- Can't See The Forest For The Trees: Wooden acting damn near killed this movie for me. Besides McConaughy and Tatum (at times), this cast was a bunch of Pinocchos. The older sister (I'm getting to that in a second) is as wooden as they come.
- Cliche Storm: Steven Soderberg, the director, usually does a nice job playing with the tropes of storytelling and puts his own spin on them. I mean look at the OCEAN'S movies. The characters are all cliches, but he does them well, but he flounders a bit here. There is so much he wanted to do with this movie he lost a lot of the characterization of the guys in the troupe and they descend into cliche-dom before long. His use of drugs and the drug culture was overused and trite as well, there were other ways to go. I think there would have been a better movie if instead of solely Ecstasy or pills (and I get that's a part of the times thing) he used something like steroids (it would make sense considering the entire "aging stripper" plotlines) instead. Also, too many of the scene seemed like retreads of things we've seen before, borrowing heavily from BN.
- Mama Bear: I always like the overprotective sibling character, but in the older sister is really flat and boring. There's nothing appealing about her character at all. She adds nothing to the movie but a nag on the boys good time. The fact that I feel that way about her shows how poorly done a character she is.
- RomCom: The entire Mike/Brooke romantic subplot feels forced and while the ending is relatively satisfying (right up until she says that her favorite breakfast place doesn't open for 7 hours...what are we going to do until then), it still didn't fit the tone of the rest of the movie.
I had to think about this for a while, because as a guy that writes YA and fantasy, there isn't much on the surface of this movie for me to take away without crossing over and talking about the influence and significance of BOOGIE NIGHTS on my writing. But there is some stuff that I can take away from MM to use in my writing, including somethings that are already there.
In my series SEASONS OF DESTINY, I have a character that I desperately want to come across as crooked and sleazy (actually in my mind's eye he bears a striking resemblance to Channing Tatum). Watching and paying attention to the character Dallas was a good way to do so, because he oozes the exact sort of attitude and demeanor I want the character to. And like Mike, that character is on a road to redemption and salvation, if you will.
I also realized that you can't just shove a romantic element into a story if there isn't one there. I know that SEASONS lacks some romance in it, but I'm not going to pigeonhole it in there because it might make it more marketable for a romance to be in there. And that goes for a lot of other elements too, you can't just shove things in there because you want them there, they have to make sense within the context of your story.
There is something trashy about this movie that appeals to me. I could've put this as it's own thing under the "Things I Like" section, but I covered it with what I put there so I didn't. I genuinely believe there is a white trash/low life Nicholas Sparks-esque novel in me somewhere and I think that it would sound quite a bit like MAGIC MIKE looks.
Well, that's a first...I just analyzed how a movie about male stripper could influence my writing.
As I progress with these movie reviews, I'm going to include photos and maybe even gifs, but for now you'll just have to use my words. Cause that's what's really important.