Now that Hollywood barely makes movies for women anymore, the exceedingly rare female-targeted wide-release film has become a new kind of event picture. Bridesmaids, Meryl Streep vehicles, Sex and the City sequels, Love Actually riffs like He’s Just Not That Into You: They’ve become the female equivalent of superhero movies, with box office results that are frontloaded to girls-night-out Fridays. Magic Mike is just the most recent example of this trend. The Channing Tatum male-stripper movie has arty credentials and a bleak narrative trajectory, neither of which were emphasized in the ribbed-abs marketing campaign: The movie earned nearly $40 million over the weekend, with an audience that was 73 percent female. I’d be intrigued to know how much of the 27 percent male demographic was heterosexual, because I get the sense that the sheer exuberance of Magic Mike‘s beefcakery — the not-at-all guilty pleasures of how the movie luxuriates in men’s bodies — has turned the movie into pure straight-dude kryptonite.
And although I’d like to chalk that up to reactionary bias, I have to admit that — as a straight dude — I felt awkward about going to see Magic Mike. Or at least I discovered myself overthinking the whole process of going to see the movie. Last week, my internal monologue looked something like this:
“Should I take a date? But wouldn’t that set a weird tone for the evening? No way I can compete with Joe Werewolf. Maybe she’ll think I’m gay. Maybe I’ll take a girl, but then I’ll look away during the strip club scenes. That sounds silly. Maybe I’ll earn points because I bear a passing resemblance to Alex Pettyfer. Everyone says so. Maybe if I take two girls, it’ll be less awkward. Do I know two girls? Maybe I should just take Staskiewicz. We both love movies. Steven Soderbergh is a great American director. We’re just two straight dudes sitting in a theater, watching the latest movie by a great American director. Oh, what, the movie is about male strippers? That’s cool. I didn’t realize that. Personally, I’m just here for the themes.”
Et cetera. On an upcoming episode of Louie, Louis C.K. talks about the peculiar anxiety of the modern heterosexual male, pointing out that straight men are the one demographic who feel outright threatened by the notion that that their sexual orientation is not set in stone. In that sense, the mere existence of Magic Mike feels like a gauntlet being thrown down. Which is stupid. Magic Mike is first and foremost a great movie, and great movies can be enjoyed by anyone. To sweeten the pot a little bit, here are five reasons (besides earning brownie points with your wife/significant other) why straight guys will enjoy Magic Mike:
1. It’s basically a remake of Scarface. The movie bears a striking resemblance to the 1983 Al Pacino classic, the movie that invented half the tropes in ’90s hip-hop and became an essential poster for every young boy’s freshman dorm room. Like Scarface, Magic Mike tracks the story of a man below the poverty line who enters into a hidden subculture of American society and becomes a star. In Scarface, Tony Montana becomes a go-go cocaine dealer; in Magic Mike, Pettyfer plays a college dropout who becomes a go-go male dancer. Yes, this involves a not-inconsiderable amount of male nudity. But, if anything, Magic Mike shows the testosterone-juiced decadent thrills of the after-midnight lifestyle even better than Scarface, with a nonstop array of available women and questionable drugs. The first half of Magic Mike is a portrait of the good life — culminating with a long party sequence on a sandbar that plays like the party your frat would’ve thrown if your frat owned a yacht.
2. It’s secretly a sports movie about male friendship. Hollywood doesn’t really make sports movies anymore. That’s partially a fiscal decision: A film about an American sport doesn’t translate abroad. But even worse, the rare sports movie that does get made nowadays almost seems embarrassed to be a sports movie. (See: The Blind Side, Moneyball.) In a weird way, the team of jacked men who comprise the dance crew at Xquisite feel like a gang of misfits in the grand tradition of Major League. They BS with each other. They use performance-enhancing drugs. They have big dreams. They worry about getting older. And their camaraderie is rendered in old-school bro terms: There’s surprisingly little “I love you, man” Apatovian sap. (If anything, Magic Mike is maybe too old-school in its presentation of the stripper crew: They’re all loud-and-proud hetero dudely dudes.)
3. It’s the latest movie by Steven Soderbergh, who is on a winning streak. For most of the ’00s, Soderbergh had a schizophrenic track record. Half the time, he was making far-out experimental movies like Bubble or The Good German; then, every three years, he’d crank out a glossy star-packed Ocean’s movie. Then came 2009’s The Informant!, which fused the two sides of Soderbergh’s personality perfectly: It was a star-powered biopic which was also a sneaky deconstruction of the whole star-powered biopic genre. Since then, he’s delivered Contagion, a reimagination of an Irwin Allen all-star disaster movie, and Haywire, an overlooked gem that plays like a female riff on Commando. The key to neo-Soderbergh is that, for all his avant-garde affectations, he’s first and foremost making movies that are fun. (Indeed, he’s gone on record as saying that Haywire was just an excuse to show a badass chick beating people up.) Magic Mike finds a great director in peak form. Nothing scary about that.
4. You will be striking a blow for gender equality. So yes, Magic Mike takes a prurient interest in the male body. Do you know how many movies have been made which take an equally-if-not-more-so prurient interest in the female body? Thousands. Hundreds of thousands. The number is uncountable. It is infinite and growing every weekend. For decades now, women have been used as hot brainless meatbags by a film industry dominated at every executive and directorial level by men. Back in 1975, a film theorist named Laura Mulvey argued that all of classical filmmaking was defined by the “male gaze” which fundamentally objectified women on screen: Actresses were objects of pleasure for the male protagonists and the audience. Mulvey was writing in the midst of the rise of second-wave feminism, and she wrote sentences like “Mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order,” so I understand if your eyes are glazing over.
But dammit, mainstream film did code the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal order! And that patriarchy is still dominant. We’ve turned women into action-movie window-dressing, superhero gal pals; they’re only allowed to be stars if they prove they can play with the boys, like Angelina Jolie in Salt or…well, actually, there is no “or,” because apparently Hollywood has a quota of one action heroine per decade. (Next up: Jennifer Lawrence!) And we complain about Twilight and Sex and the City, as if women aren’t allowed to have their own stupid adolescent franchise, even though all we do all day is deconstruct our own stupid adolescent franchises. I mean, come on, guys, pretty much every major blockbuster action movie today is about a straight dude tortured by self-doubt who realizes at the 3/4 mark that he’s actually totally cool, usually because his totally hot love interest helps him to realize just how great he is, possibly while wearing revealing clothing. Shouldn’t we open ourselves up to the female perspective? Shouldn’t we grit our teeth and watch actors get objectified, the same way that women have been gritting their teeth and watching actresses get objectified since the dawn of cinema?
5. Naked Olivia Munn breasts appear three minutes into Magic Mike. Patriarchy accomplished!
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