I tend to not read reviews until after I’ve seen a film or play. I don’t like to go in with preconceived notions. Plus, in this case it was Magic Mike, so really, was I in it for substance anyway? Did I need some intellectual or social commentary from a critic in advance?
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No, I decided. And off I went to see Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey and Co. for pure entertainment in an air-conditioned theater on the hottest day of the year.
Well, I got my entertainment. And then some. A big thank you and tip of the cap to men who can dance, from Fred Astaire to Patrick Swayze to Michael Jackson to Tatum (in fatigues and sweats and jeans, oh my). Bring it.
But the life coach in me didn’t expect to get a rush from this film and she did. And, judging from reviews in The New York Times and The New Yorker that I finally read after seeing Steven Soderbergh’s latest project, that part of me that digs well-done cheesy wasn’t alone. I hope those who go see this film will not just watch, but listen to what Tatum’s main character, Mike, is saying about his life.
“Steven Soderbergh’s thrillingly kinetic drama puts Channing Tatum (who co-produced) front and center in the title role of a stripper with a brain, a heart, and a dream -- all of which propel him to success yet make him uneasy with it,” writes Richard Brody in The New Yorker. “Meanwhile … [Brooke, played by Cody Horn], a medical assistant, is a forceful voice of practical wisdom and, as such, just out of Mike’s reach.”
It’s a formula, but one that works because so many people can relate. Mike is running several businesses and is stripping at night. He’s young and the benefits of lots of women and fast living are naturally appealing. But even his occasional fling played by Olivia Munn tugs at his heart strings a bit and we learn early on that what he really wants to do is design furniture for a living. That’s the dream.
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Now, if we replaced stripping in this story and instead went with working as a bank teller or being an administrative assistant or waitressing or being a barista or a tour guide – because many doing those jobs are going home and plunging into passions like writing a novel or playing in a band or sketching designs -- then we see how darned relatable it is. I’m not suggesting we sub out all that blatantly carnal footage in Magic Mike and put the main character in a Starbucks, just drilling down on why the story held up for me.
“At one point Mike puts on a suit and glasses and tries to secure a bank loan,” writes Manohla Dargis in The New York Times. “Mr. Soderbergh plays up the comedy between the stripper and flustered female banker (Betsy Brandt), who says she really, really wants to give him what he wants but can’t. Mike yearns to make his artisan furniture. The world, though, wants him to strip and shake his tail.”
And he does. Enticingly. (Yes, it bears repeating.)
So by all means go if you just need some distraction. No need to get all message-y every time you seek entertainment. But for me it was a bonus, a feel-good. Maybe it’s because countless people have approached me for coaching and almost every one of them has a buried “furniture designer” aspect that wants to come to the surface. It just doesn’t know how to push through, what with all the societal judgment about practicality being king, money ruling everything, creativity as accessory, dream as frivolity.
I was very drawn to the character of Brooke, an understated beauty with attitude who Mike is attracted to because he understands her pull to living straight-up and sensible. She, of course, is attracted to the guy who would dare to get on a stage and strip, but really drawn to the one who wants to live on the beach and make furniture. She has a life coach element to her conveyed by her sheer presence and they in fact share a “life coach” joke about the McConaughey character’s off-the-rails way of living.
Sometimes, for some people, all it takes for their life to turn is that one person who helps them see something in themselves – a possibility, a glimmer that pushes them from envisioning to really getting that the goal is within their grasp, a much-longed-for call to action.
That theme is pulsating beneath the skin and gyration in Magic Mike.
Add in the back story of Tatum’s real-life turn at stripping when he was younger and his desire to make a movie about it and you get a genuine dream-to-fruition thread through the whole project. It was pretty much coaxed out of him by Soderbergh, this combo of real experiences and fictional add-ons that make up what Dargis calls “a smoothly distilled collaboration that balances Mr. Tatum’s heat and charm -- and ambitions that are as transparent as Mike’s -- with Mr. Soderbergh’s cool, cinematic intelligence and ongoing preoccupations.”
My own nearly obsessive preoccupations run along the lines of everyone in the world using their gifts to maximum potential. Mike’s gifts run the gamut from physical specimen to artist. My eyes and heart were more than happy to partake in his magical journey.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.