Magic Mike, XL for Women but About Men

 We're in Park Slope for a weekend get-away and decided to see a movie yesterday. Our only choices were Terminator, Jurassic Park Reloaded, three kids movies and Magic Mike, XL. I never saw Magic Mike, Petite, but figured the plot would be easy enough to follow (it was).  It was also ridiculous, sexy, enjoyable, moderately feminist, liberal-leaning and troubling.

A brief plot synopsis: Mike (played by thick-necked Channing Tatum in a perpetually sideways turned baseball cap), a former male stripper, has made it out of the scene and now owns his own moving/shelf-building company. But he's not totally happy. His long-term girlfriend left him and this causes him to eat ice cream (not cookies which we find out later are his favorite dessert and they end up being the focus of the last song he strips to, a dumb miss for the writers). Then, he gets a call from his old stripper friends and the road trip movie begins. He meets up with them at a hotel and decides to go to one final strip contest a few states away. In the meantime, they bond, wounds are healed, and they come up with new routines for the big dance off finale.

Okay, so back to the adjectives. The movie is ridiculous because most if it is fantasy; the stakes are pretty low and the plot is advanced by a series of fortunate helping female hands (one woman comes up with the new dance routines, another lends them her ex-husband's Rolls Royce to get to the contest). Some scenes pop out of nowhere--- like the guys talking in a hotel room while a random chick in a motorcycle helmet jumps on the bed nearby. In another scene, they all decide to take drugs and this leads to true confessions, the guys deciding to chuck their old fireman routines, and a funny scene in a convenience store featuring a strip tease with Cheetos and Aquafina. Most scenes are really just moments strung together to get us to the next strip tease. While getting ready for the big dance-off, there's a montage of the guys making costumes with a staple gun and silver lame and going to Home Depot to build a set piece--- all of which come together seamlessly and professionally executed.

The strip teases were sexy. I don't think I've ever seen a movie that featured so much male partial nudity without one single naked or even semi-naked woman. The men spend about 30 percent of the movie with their shirts off, gyrating and pretending to have sex with the prone female bodies in numerous ways--flipping them, crawling toward them, simulating oral sex, simulating doggie style sex, sex with multiple partners--but doing all of this to the women in a semi-aggressive way, but with flawless execution. Like a Justin Timberlake dance video but with body oil.

One question: who is this actor with the mullet who looks like that bounty hunter guy? I could've done without him.

It was fun though, and funny, sometimes on purpose. The dialogue felt like it was improvised at points--a certain naturalness balanced against the same amount of woodenness. Can Channing Tatum act? I haven't ever seen him in anything else. He can dance, and he's not the worst at mumbling lines, but I wouldn't say that he has a depth of range. And personally, he's not my type at all. I prefer the more waif-ish artistic type to the frat boy, ex-football player aura that he projects.

The feminist/liberal-leaning thing...I want to say it's a feminist film in some ways. Jada Pickett Smith plays a kick-ass business woman who owns her own high-class strip mansion (that's the only way to describe it. It's a huge house where each room features gaggles of women and men sent their to dance for them). She  and M. Mike have had a thing in the past, so there's at least one multiracial relationship. She refers to all women as queens and the men are there to worship them, in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Some of the women who get danced over are heavy--there's one scene that shows a very large African American woman being flipped, rubbed on, and drooled over on a masseuse bench while other women shriek, and then there's another detour where older (super beautiful) women are objects of desire. One guy, who distinguishing character trait is the huge size of his member, ends up sleeping with Andi McDowell, and is teased by the guys the next day for finally finding a Cinderella to fit his giant cock. Or something like that. And then there's a strip contest at the beginning of the movie that takes place at a drag show, so all of the guys get up onstage and prance around and not one homophobic remark is made. However, there's also not one single gay guy in the audience; it's also still just a bunch of bachelorette party-going women. There are a few African American men in the film, also strippers and performers, and then there's a final mirror dance scene set to the song about Oreos that has Mike and this guy doing the same dance at the same time to two different women, with a frame around them (remember that they went to Home Depot and managed from that to build an entire huge frame for this last scene).

And yet...And yet, it fails the Bechdel movie test, for one thing. The women in the film are really just props to get the men to the next moment in their lives. None of them have relationships with one another, and none of them seem to have their own ambitions. Well, Mike's love interest does want to get to New York, but she ends up not going, so that she conveniently become the final body over which he can gyrate in the non-climax, climactic ending.

Who is the audience of this film? If it's for straight women, it fails, because it's not at all concerned with what women experience in their lives and has no main female characters and doesn't actually offer any real insight into the male experience. I mean, none of these guys are complicated or real. If it's for straight men, it fails, because I can't see straight men deciding to go to a film about male entertainers and if they did, the only message they'd get isn't accurate. I don't think women want men to just fawn all over them and flip them every which way so that you never quite know where their balls are, you just know that they could be coming at you from any angle, at any second. If it's for gay men, it fails because these guys are all straight. They're also all single, but they are categorically hyper masculine and interested only in worshipping the female form. If you want to see the film purely for the mechanics of the strip-tease dancing, it wins.

Still, the weird thing about men stripping for women is that there's one very obvious missing element. The men are playing at deep, passionate desire for the women, lavishing them with attention, simulating sex, and yet they are never actually aroused. You would be able to see the arousal if they were because they are wearing these little tiny silver colored Dixie cups. And they're not hard. It's all a performance and the women in the film are totally blown away by it, grinning, giggling, fanning themselves, throwing dollar bill after dollar bill, as if they can't tell that it's not real or don't care. But we do care.

My guess is that this film is meant to be entertaining eye candy for straight women and gay men. But what a weird genre--I can't think of another movie meant mostly for women, concerned only with telling the story from the male point of view. Except for maybe films about the marginalized male experience, like Priscilla Queen of the Desert or that other film where Patrick Swayze played a female impersonator.

Can you give me an example of a movie meant for men that features mostly female characters? Give me one.  So, it's like doubly weird--- it's a movie geared toward women, featuring almost all men, with no real understanding of what women really want or need, and focused solely on the male experience.

See it anyway---I want you to know if you too watch most of the film with your mouth gaping open in disbelief, desire and dismay.

Note: just read some more about Channing Tatum and this movie. Duh, he started as a male stripper in Florida in real life. Also, he's very gay-friendly which makes me like him better. Like, he's okay with being desired by men and women alike and can admit to finding other men hot. Also, one of his co-stars is gay and out. Maybe in another ten years, we could have a movie that allows the men to be gay or bi or whatever and it's not a big deal.