When I watched the first Magic Mike movie, I wasn’t sure how a movie about male strippers could be so boring. A big fat empty promise of a movie.
Magic Mike XXL makes good on that promise by understanding that all we really want is a series of stripping set-pieces with maybe some sort of plot tied around it. Poor old Channing Tatum, it turns out his life is a terrible basis for a movie, and everything’s way better when they are freed of trying portray the gritty melodrama of drug addiction and legal trouble.
You don’t even really strictly need to have seen the first movie to enjoy Magic Mike XXL, the movie gives you all the context you need. Mike was formerly part of a crew but he’s living a strip-free life. He had a girlfriend who he proposed to (the girlfriend secured at the end of the first movie), but she turned him down. There were some other dudes (Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer), but they’ve ditched the crew to be….not in this film, leaving them a bit rudderless and ready for “one last ride”.
Apart from some visually enticing stripping set-pieces, why does this make my film of the decade? If you’ve had a look at my past film reviews, you’ll know I generally prefer movies centred around women (my films of the year for 2019? Probably Hustlers, Booksmart and Little Women, although Parasite was an outlier). At the very least, I’d like them to pass the Bechdel test, which this…does not. So what is it about this film? It presents such a vision of non-toxic masculinity and celebration of women’s sexual desire that I scarcely believe it was actually written by a man. And directed by a man?
How something manages to be simultaneously sweet and extremely blokey – see the quest of Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) to find a woman who an handle his extremely large penis, and the delight of the gang when that woman turns out to be Andie Macdowell, who proves that Wine Moms deserve love too. Muted high fives and a muttered: “That beautiful nice lady was the glass slipper?”
The emotional vulnerability and support is a thread throughout the whole movie. They praise each other’s business success and entrepreneurial ideas (okay maybe not Richie’s ‘Condomints’, because it totally already exists). The friendship shown by the guys to Mike is what gets him out of his post-breakup funk (a lesson he tries to pass on to Amber Heard’s kinda-maybe-love-interest Zoe). They lift each other up, like when Richie is having a crisis of confidence about his role as a male entertainer and Mike tells him “You’re a Greek god, you could tie your shoe and make some girl’s year”. Honestly I know they’re all on molly but I still think this is one of greatest shows of male love and support I’ve seen on screen:
It’s also incredibly heartwarming to see the guys bond over their creative processes, both with each other and the folks they bring in to their orbit – drag queens, singers, and dancers. As the guys build towards their final acts embracing their ‘true selves’ and catering to what they actually think their audience wants to see (rather than the rote characters McConaughey’s Dallas roped them in to) they used their bond to support one another’s vision.
But my favourite thing about this film is how much these characters, and this movie, loves women. Firstly, it implicitly allows every female character to call the guys out on their bullshit. That includes’s Jada Pinkett Smith’s Rome, a former…flame….it’s a bit weird… who’s built an epic life for herself and doesn’t appreciate Mike wandering back in for help, and my queen Elizabeth Banks as Paris, who runs the stripper convention they are journeying towards throughout the film.
I’m just gonna chuck this clip in here because the way she says “You’re not special” is honestly one of my favourite things:
It takes a chance encounter a Rome’s…well, I’m gonna go right ahead and call it a pleasure palace…with Andre (Donald Glover), who comes up with songs on the spot based on a few details about a woman in the crowd to summarise what becomes a key theme of the movie – that when a woman is willing to open up and be vulnerable with you, and tell you what they want – that’s a beautiful thing. Something that is emphasised again when Andie MacDowells’s Nancy and the Wine Moms Crew complain about their marital problems and are lifted up by the guys.
Rome’s venue Domina is also one of the key parts of the movie that celebrates a woman’s desire – and more importantly, the desire of all women, not just pretty thin white women. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in American racial politics, but seeing a venue without a white person in sight (…until Mike and the gang walk in), appreciating each other’s bodies is a beautiful thing. There’s an implication, I think, that Rome is extremely careful about who she lets through the doors to ensure everyone feels safe. And it’s a venue where women appreciate the beauty of the male body, rather than vice versa. I gotta say – and this is a ridiculous thing to say as someone who has taken their clothes off onstage twice in the last year – I am probably a bit of a prude, and the first time I saw this movie, the scene at Rome’s and the scene at the stripper convention were jarring. I had no idea if this is actually what goes on, or if it was being heightened for the movie. These days, I don’t care. Women celebrating their sexuality is a damn good thing.
The stripper convention once again emphasises that every single kind of woman gets to take part. Regular-ass women make up this crowd and have their fantasies catered too. I have never been more delighted, I think, to see a woman caressed to reveal the shorts she wears under her dress (we do it, gang, thigh chafing is real). No one is immune from being worshipped, and no-one is excluded from Rome addressing them as “Queen”.
That, in the end, is why I love this movie.
(no but seriously who was the woman whispering in their ear when making this movie? Thank you, sincerely)