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Is ‘Magic Mike XXL’ ‘Revolutionary’?

Is 'Magic Mike XXL' 'Revolutionary'?

Magic Mike XXL” is turning out to be an unusual movie in many respects, not least of them the report that its opening-weekend audience was reportedly an unheard-of 96 percent female. (Guys, you can go, it’s cool.) But is it a revolution? “XXL” isn’t nearly as universally praised as “Mad Max: Fury Road”; as we reported last week, many of the women the film is explicitly aimed at aren’t entirely sure its aim is true. (I failed to note in that post that the movie also drew a significant gay male following, which “XXL” nods to in a scene set on drag night in a gay bar, but as Wesley Morris wrote in his Grantland review, “I’ve never watched a movie more aware of the fact that it is not speaking explicitly to men, not even gay ones.”) But among those who’ve fallen for it, the praise is as effusive, even hyperbolic, as some of “Fury Road’s” was. We’re not in a position to evaluate whether, as The Toast’s Roxane Gay wrote, “My vagina fluttered away from my body, toward the screen and into Magic Mike’s hands,” but we can run down who’s called the movie “revolutionary,” and whether or not the argument sticks.

David Faraci, Badass Digest

This makes “Magic Mike XXL” feel absolutely revolutionary, like it is blazing a new path in how we can tell stories in movies. What if the conflicts are all internal, and what if their [sic] overcome not through action or hurting people but by people talking to each other and supporting each other? I know that this sounds boring but “Magic Mike XXL” is a joy, an affirmation of happiness, a movie that makes you feel better about yourself at every turn.

Matt Barone, Tribeca Film

Beneath the rampant muscles and comedy, though, lies a subtle yet hugely commendable sense of pro-women positivity. What “Magic Mike XXL” doesn’t have in plot, it makes up for with an almost hell-bent sense of giving its female audience members and women characters everything they desire.  Unexpectedly feminist, “Magic Mike XXL” isn’t unlike another one of this summer’s cinematic high-points, “Mad Max: Fury Road”: both look like bro-centric movies on the surface, but their sensory overloads are quietly aimed more towards women. And both are, in their own odd ways, revolutionary.

Drew McWeeny, HitFix

What feels almost revolutionary is how focused the film is on female pleasure. In one of the film’s best scenes, they stop in at the home of a girl they met on the road, only to meet a pack of older women led by the girl’s mother, Andie McDowell. It’s a funny, powerful sequence that speaks to something common and shared. As the women talk about their experiences and their dissatisfactions, the men sit there and listen. Really listen. And when they finally respond, it is practically surgical, the perfect response to make these women not only feel happy, but also respected and even revered. One of the new characters in the film, Andre (Donald Glover), specializes in what can only be described as the most self-esteem empowering lap dance in the history of lap dances, and it would not surprise me if he garners a whole new fanbase just from this one film. The guys sort of half-jokingly call themselves healers, and in a way, the film makes the case that they might be right.

As we reported last week, female critics who’ve reviewed the film aren’t entirely convinced that the movie is targeting their pleasure centers; For every account like Gay’s, there’s a review like Rebecca Keegan’s in the Los Angeles Times, where she suggests that rather than doing an erotic dance for a convenience-store clerk, Joe Mangianello, “a better scene might have involved him helping her fix the broken slushie machine, mopping up the mess with his shirt and settling in to binge-watch some ‘Downton Abbey.'” The movie’s deliberate plotlessness may be a strength or a weakness, depending on how you parse it, although it’s surely intentional; right before the final dance-off, a character pauses to remind the audience that it’s not a contest, and there’s nothing at stakes but the prospect of a good time. But in that case, making grandiose claims seems not only wrong but counter to the spirit of the film, unless you want to argue that its very non-revolutionariness is what makes it revolutionary. (Whoa.)

In the Washington Post, Ann Hornaday takes a different tack, suggesting that what’s revolutionary about Mangianello’s convenience-store scene is not the attention to female pleasure but to masculine emotion. In devoting their lives to understanding women’s psyches, Mike and his fellow Kings of Tampa have feminized themselves, even as they maintain their ultra-masculine exteriors.

It the most revolutionary scene in “Magic Mike XXL” has less to do with its feminist attitude toward women — which has a tendency to feel patronizing and condescending — than its flip side: the widening of men’s emotional lexicon. It’s when Joe Manganiello performs a salacious solo in a gas station mini-mart for the benefit of a bored store clerk. She barely looks up from her phone, but outside Manganiello’s fellow Kings of Tampa look on admiringly, cheering on his lascivious moves with delighted solidarity. Whether they’re plucking their eyebrows, admiring one another’s ample physiques or, as Tatum does at one point, discussing their inner drag queens, the boys of “Magic Mike XXL” are securely and unapologetically in touch with their feminine sides, which they clearly perceive as necessary for a well-rounded emotional life.

In USA Today, Kelly Lawler points out that “Magic Mike XXL” is “mostly about men”: The movie may preach asking women what they want, but we rarely hear the men ask, or the women answer. (These guys justknow.) For her, what’s revolutionary is the varied size and shape of their onscreen audience, and the way the movie recognizes their desire, even if it doesn’t explore it.

“Magic Mike XXL” is mostly about men, and the plus-size women in the film are mostly extras in the audiences of the strip shows our heroes put on. But the revolutionary thing about it is that these women are not different from the skinny ones standing next to them also holding fistfuls of dollar bills. Plus-size women are allowed to be there, standing among the crowd, without being a joke. They are allowed to participate in the movie alongside their skinnier neighbors, in the same ways. And, most importantly, they are allowed to be equally as sexual.

With so much attention paid to “Magic Mike XXL’s” exploration of gender issues, little has been paid to the way it deals with race. Morris noted in his review that in the scene set at Domina, a club run by Jada Pinkett Smith’s character that caters to women of color and largely employs black dancers, “The lighting, in blues and reds, doesn’t obscure the variety of black and brown skin. It brings something else out in them.” At Letterboxd, the Cinephiliacs’ Peter Labuza places that scene in the context of celluloid film stock, which was historically optimized for Caucasian skin tones. New digital cameras deal with low-light situations, including night photography, better, but in “Magic Mike XXL,” cinematographer Steven Soderbergh uses the nightclub setting to explore a range of colors and skin tones that the movies have often ignored.

No sequence feels more revelatory than a long digression into a Southern mansion run by Jada Pinkett Smith. At her mansion, female “queens” line the rooms as strippers improvise their balletic choreography, occasionally picking women from the sidelines to indulge in the feeling of truly being pleased. However, this sequence is probably most notable that beyond Mike and his gang, all the strippers and clientele are black. And they are beautiful. Shooting on RED, Jacobs and Soderbergh scale the entire sequence on a blue and red color grade, eliminating the yellows that were key to distinguishing whiteness in 35mm (and which Soderbergh has used to distinguish blackness in the race-conscious “The Knick”). Everything in the frame takes on purple qualities, making each man and woman look gorgeous. Digital photography has often been spoken of as a medium better for capturing night than day, but rarely have I seen it used for the way it can correct the injustice of 35mm’s treatment of black bodies (the only other example that pops to mind is the “Diamonds” sequence in “Girlhood“). The ability to use lighting to highlight the beauty of black bodies returns in the finale, as Tatum and African American Stephen Boss create a mirror image on stage — these bodies are entirely equal in talent and sexuality. Everyone is beautiful in “Magic Mike XXL,” regardless of sex, gender, race, body type, orientation. This is perhaps the most revolutionary act of a mainstream summer movie in years.

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