Magic Mike XXL – Unapologetically one for the ladies. (Film Review)
“It’s not bro time it’s show time – are you guys ready?”
I plead with my friends to spare a thought for the heterosexual feminist. Falling in love with a man always demands a dose of Stockholm syndrome and for most hetro-identified feminists, myself included, anger is your only defense, your only friend and your only escape. All of us know what it is to have one’s body turn against us, but straight women live at the coal face of how dangerous and difficult that mind/body divide can be. As an avid reader of Foucault I like to think I am free to fall in love with either sex (and like a true feminist I’ve swum the warm waters of the other pool – and had a wonderful time I hasten to add) but as an equally avid reader of Freud, I struggle with that Daddy-love and am forced to confess to gaining my greatest pleasures laying myself at the foot of the masculine altar. It’s not an easy admission, nor a comfortable life, but I struggle on in my search for answers amid my inevitably short-term love affairs.
Enter Magic Mike XXL.
It’s always fascinated me that female desire is considered dangerous and at risk of leading women into self-destructive fantasy, while male desire is natural and exposes problems with women. In the many loud arguments I have had with beautiful men who loved me in the past, I could regularly be heard to scream “Why are men natural and women wrong?” In fact, it is male desire that leads women into a jail of hetero-normative conformity and female desire that unleashes their bodies, expands their choice and makes them demand more from a potential mate. Most of all, it debunks a certain mythology that power resides with the receiver of the gaze, and gives women the chance to be free choosing sexual creatures who can stay or walk away. Magic Mike and his crew are the embodiment of that desire, for it is an aphrodisiac to be catered to; a phenomenon about which straight women know nothing.
The first installment of Magic Mike was all very PC. Mike (Channing Tatum) appropriately refused his life of easy sex and nightly stripping in favour of a relationship, a stable job and a suburban-appropriate future. It was of course, praised by the critics for starting and ending the conversation about female-centric stripping with a little titillation and a lot of moral lesson. Case closed. Magic Mike XXL however, steps off the precipice of safety and virtually eschews plot, characterisation and suspense for pure beef cake, and it works far better than the first installment, despite the predictable lower ratings from the primarily male critical audience. Mikes back, and he’s brought Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) Ken (Matt Bomer) Tarzan (Kevin Nash) and Andre (Donald Glover) with him for no other reason than shamelessly giving women what they want. And they do.
Sexual fantasy in the film is specifically tailored to female tastes, including a wedding strip tease scenario that ends with a heated honeymoon night, a straight woman’s bordello run by Rome (a truly fabulous Jada Pinkett Smith) and a stunning Joe Manganiello attempting to raise a smile from a bored, tired every woman working in a gas station. A cameo from Andie MacDowell sees the sophisticated older female as the only one “woman enough” to properly engulf Big Dick Richie and ladies of all body types are seduced on stage by men who make a living from trying to anticipate and fulfil her sexual needs. There is no conversation outside of heterosexual female desire, and that is an astonishingly rare thing to see in a film anyway, let alone a main stream Hollywood vehicle. This is not a film for the mind, and it makes no apologies for that.
When Jada Pinkett Smith stands on a stage in front of a room filled with excited women and says “Are you ready to be worshiped? Are you ready to be exulted?” she taps into the very essence of the appeal of pornography. It is a form of worship of the gaze, it does place ultimate power with the passive observer. Feminism has clear opinions about pornography and titillating the desires of the male gaze, and I stand by all of their observations and claims. But while eradication is the goal, it isn’t yet available. Porn must be encountered, demystified and stripped of its power if it is to successfully overthrown. Part of that process is waking women up to their own version of it, so they can become familiar, feel less threatened and begin to negotiate the battlefield of sexual congress with a voice. Part of that process is exposing men to what it feels like to be completely left out of a sexual conversation their significant other is experiencing with a male they can never live up to. In this way, Magic Mike XXL is making its own contribution to that exchange.
So enjoy guilt free ladies. And if your man is giving you trouble, just call a sister and have a Magic Mike XXL moment. It might help douse a dose of that anger.