Friday, November 27, 2015

Magic Mike XXL Review

I have never been to a strip club. I recall numerous opportunities to do so with friends who were lining their pockets with singles with smiles plastered on their faces, but I just couldn't muster up the desire to be involved for two reasons: 1) I have always valued wasting my money on something tangible, a movie to add to the collection, a video game to entertain me for weeks and so on. The idea of coming home broke and with nothing more than memories of nudity seemed absurd to me. 2) the concept of faux attraction driven by financial means has always been a massive turn off for me. No matter what a pretty girl might say to me in that situation, I would always know in the back of my mind that if you removed the dollars and the circumstances from the equation, she would have no interest.

The original Magic Mike is a film that I have defended repeatedly as I get sideways looks and judgmental laughs from those that invoke a homophobic inner fear whenever they consider watching men dance shirtless, all the while expecting the women in their lives to take in countless hours of similar content involving their own gender and never thinking twice about it. Despite being a fan of the first film, I had severe doubts about a sequel that was sans Steven Soderbergh as director (although he did return as cinematographer and editor and I always welcome the crisp brilliance of his frames). Those doubts were extinguished with a glorious blast of energy and sexy fun as I witnessed a film that has actually gotten better and better in hindsight with each passing hour.

I haven't read a lot of reviews for this film prior to writing my own, but I would imagine a common criticism is the lack of stakes in the story as it doesn't follow a traditional Hollywood narrative of leveling the characters with the highest of highs or the lowest of lows along their journey. Somehow a story of male strippers, or male entertainers as they like to be called, going on a road trip to put on one last show together has a natural, honest and refreshing flow to it, a breezy cinematic experience that doesn't feel the need to be phony with a hard impact punch to the gut or a trumped up feel good romance angle. Magic Mike XXL feels really fucking good because it's really well made and fantastically entertaining.

We are following these perfectly sculpted men driving in a food truck across state lines. They take drugs and bounce dance routine ideas off each other and while the occasional bit of conflict arises regarding all too real life issues involving going in different directions and leaving the past behind, the overall theme of Magic Mike XXL is that their duty to the world is to make people feel good. They do, and that includes the audience of this picture as long as we are willing to let them in. While Soderbergh gave their world a crisp yet steely cold chill in the first Magic Mike, somehow here he manages to top himself by making absolutely everything in the frame feel vibrant and stunningly gorgeous. Every man and woman, no matter their age, body type or race, look equally beautiful and free from a world that otherwise constantly judges everyone by those very things. Magic Mike XXL exists in a world that doesn't discriminate a woman for being too old or too big or by the color of their skin, and these male entertainers are there to remind them all that they are beautiful inside and out. It's a rare and wonderful thing to find in cinema.

By the time the moment of the big show arrives, I was so ready to be a member of the audience and witness what they came up with. My sexual orientation was irrelevant and why should it be? The primary cast of Magic Mike XXL are exactly what they strive to be, male entertainers, and their clever concepts and movements to the music were wonderfully realized and exciting. It was the show they had hoped for all along, the last hooray that made the room explode with joy, and I was hooked.

After taking some time to reflect on what seemed like a mindless but exuberant experience, I realized that I may finally understand the appeal of strippers, besides the obvious nudity factor of course. These men found a way to make every single person they came across along their way feel really good, and not just in a brief sexual way. Whether it was one girl working at a convenience store or a gigantic auditorium of screaming women looking for a night to let loose, these men managed to connect with every single one of them and make them all feel sexy regardless of who they are and what they were feeling earlier that day. Whether or not the actual physical feelings between the paying customer or the man on stage bringing her close are in any way real or profound is meaningless. It's that in that moment, for that one night, everyone will feel beautiful and alive.

How many films have that kind of heart or optimism or open-mindedness?

I may not be headed out to drop a pile of cash at a strip club anytime soon, but I will gladly drop a few dollars in order to head out on the road with Magic Mike again.


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