Magic Mike for women
Norman Ko/ Pepito/ Ian Lawrence/ Splash News
I was not expecting to like Magic Mike XXL, let alone love it, but I do kind of love it. What I like about Magic Mike is that it looks like a smutty movie but really it’s about the frustration of the American Dream, although based on the number of times Lainey has complained about Magic Mike being too talky, I think I may be alone in appreciating that it’s actually a fairly character-driven film. Based on the advertising, I feared that XXL had taken out what I enjoyed about the first movie in order to make the smutty male stripper movie everyone wanted Magic Mike to be, but no, it has not. In fact, Magic Mike XXL is far more subversive than Magic Mike, in that yes, it’s a smutty movie about dudes grinding on a stage, but it’s also an exuberant, sincere, and gleefully lascivious celebration of female desire.
From start to finish, Magic Mike XXL is about how sexy turning on women is. No, not how sexy turned on women are but, again, how sexy it is to turn on women. And the women in XXL come in every description, and each is singled out as worthy of being worshipped. Led by Channing Tatum reprising his role as male stripper extraordinaire “Magic Mike”, the male characters in the movie unabashedly love women. Their dance routines are less about the removal of their clothes for money and more about the variety of ways in which men can service women’s desire, and none of it is shameful or presented as anything other than these women’s due. The movie seems to say—Ladies, you deserve to revel in your sexuality. We are here to support that.
Directed by Gregory Jacobs—though Steven Soderbergh worked as the cinematographer and editor, so his fingerprints are on it, too—XXL is calculated for the female gaze, exclusively. The lens lingers on the perfect bodies of the male cast, and the build-up to the final dance number is paced beautifully throughout the movie—CTates dancing to “Pony” is just a tease. But XXL is, essentially, a buddy road comedy about a group of dudes out for one last good time. It could be The Hangover or Entourage, except for the part where the movie actually likes women. That’s the magic of Magic Mike XXL—Magic Mike and the “Kings of Tampa” are as much a fantasy as Vinny Chase and his entourage, except they’re actually secure in their masculinity.
And it’s leagues above Fifty Shades of Grey, also a smutty movie about female fantasies and desire. But where Fifty Shades can only think to show female sexuality as a thing that services a male partner, in XXL female sexuality comes in a broader spectrum and is treated as the property solely of women. It does not exist for men but for women, and men—if that’s who a woman prefers—are there to share in the satisfaction of it. Channing Tatum made a way smarter movie about sex and sexuality than Fifty Shades could ever hope to be, and he did it by approaching female sexuality as something to be shared and appreciated.
There is no competition in XXL between the sexes. The men do not see women as threats. They see them as interesting people worth talking to, listening to, and then performing for, for no other reason than it gives them both pleasure. In one scene Mike and his crew drop in on a private party where Andie MacDowell presides as a frustrated middle-aged woman, gathered with female friends to blow off similarly frustrated steam. But the exotic dancers do not dance (sorry, Lainey!), instead they have an honest discussion about how too often women’s needs, especially as we age, are not met. Female sexuality is addressed openly and without shame, and it is framed as both a thing worth pursuing and something too few men actually consider. Mike and his cohort listen to these women, they absorb the lessons of their frustration and desire, and in the end, it helps them craft a new dance routine that is not about glorifying their own bodies, but about using their bodies to draw out and exalt feminine desire.
It sounds silly, I know, but it’s kind of mind-blowing in action. This is a studio movie, ostensibly just a piece of summer fluff, but it’s full of moments like that. Magic Mike XXL is not doing well at the box office, which is depressing as sh*t because this is a wonderful movie that’s both hugely entertaining and gloriously subversive. It’s a movie made by men explicitly for women and that celebrates women as sexual beings regardless of age, shape, or color. In the world of Magic Mike XXL, women simply deserve to have their fantasies serviced.