Much like director Steven Soderbergh's other 2012 release, Haywire, Magic Mike is elegantly simple. What makes it interesting -- sets it apart even in its uncomplexity -- is the unique trappings used to tell its story. I suppose this is true of many great films, but it seems especially so in the case of Soderbergh's works.
Magic Mike, in its essence, is about the pitfalls of balancing a blossoming bromance with a blossoming romance. Judd Apatow has made a career out of movies like this, but he's never made one where the titular character and his ne'er-do-well sidekick are successful male strippers. So is Soderbergh's Mike, played by Channing Tatum, who is an ex-male stripper himself. A thirtysomething aspiring entrepreneur, Mike works multiple jobs in hopes that he'll someday have enough money to get his custom furniture business off the ground. He is, as much as any other character from any movie I've seen lately, a true-to-life apparition of a post-recession hero, working incredibly hard toward a dream he has little hope of realizing and making most of his puny fortune off of his looks.
Mike is the star attraction at Xquisite, an all-male revue in Tampa, Fla. led by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), an aspiring entrepreneur in his own right, who has a leg up on Mike mostly because he is older (and also because he is committed to something a bit more readily marketable than custom furniture -- a strip club empire). Despite Mike's grinding existence, he finds the time to take a protege under his wing, meeting teenaged Adam (Alex Pettyfer) at a construction site (roofing, it seems, is one of his other odd jobs) and, after a chance meeting and an unexpected absence, bringing him into the stripping fold.
As you might imagine, the aimless Adam is far more impetuous than the driven Mike, and, swept up in a new and edgy lifestyle, the former's rash decisions soon become more trouble than they are worth for the latter. Or they would be were it not for Adam's sister Brooke (Cody Horn), to whom Mike is both responsible to (for her brother's well-being) and deeply attracted.
A reckoning is coming. Dallas is ready to move the strip club to Miami, where he believes greater riches lie. Adam's poor decisions, magnified by his escalating drug use, create trouble for all, but especially his mentor, who is still desperately trying to prove himself to Brooke. Mike, if you haven't guessed by now, is at a crossroads. Down one path is the unbridled and free, but also immature and unrewarding life he knows, represented by Adam. Down another is pure uncertainty -- a chance at something with Brooke, but only a chance.
Again, this is a simple film with an outlandish facade. Mike, who just so happens to be a stripper, still faces the hard choices that many in my generation are as well. His economic prospects are bleak, relative to the last few generations, and he's also just barely emerging from a prolonged and hedonistic adolescence.
There's a stunning resonance in Mike's situation for anyone who has grown up in a post-9/11, post-housing crash world. What wasn't so stunning, at least to me, were the performances of just about everyone outside of the film's two stars, Tatum and McConaughey. There was a wooden flatness to the brother-sister pair of Adam and Brooke that, had there been a different dynamic, might have really elevated this film.