Band the time Magic Mike XXL reaches its unsatisfactory climax, you might think its awkwardly enumerated title is a threat – not some muddled Roman measure of greatness but countdown to even more sequels to Magic Mike, the stripper hit of 2012.
Executive producer Steven Soderbergh and co-producer Channing Tatum (who plays Mike) threw the first movie’s silly pretense about an exotic dancer who really just wants to run his own construction business. Now Mike hides his custom furniture business and hits the road with his old stage buddies, heading to a stripper convention in Myrtle Beach, SC
Focusing on dancing (much more dancing than striptease), Tatum and Soderbergh stumble upon a strange genre hybrid – a new millennial non-musical who falsifies social realities in the same mold as Lightning dance, the ridiculous 1983 hit about a welder who wants to become a ballerina.
Hollywood’s inability these days to honestly represent the life of the working class is a trap for Soderbergh.
Hollywood’s inability these days to honestly represent the life of the working class Soderbergh trap; despite his status as the “genius” of independent cinema, he seems as far removed from the normal human experience as those high profile Hollywood crooks behind Lightning dance. Note the commercial good nature of beer among sex workers: Mike’s friendly question (“How did I know you for so long without knowing you were in Desert Storm?”) Would be better addressed to filmmakers. These shallow characters shamefully deny their core work – like when Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) insists, “I’m not a stripper, I’m a male artist!”
So while a true musical uses song and dance to express the feelings of its characters, the Magic mike the franchise choreographs abnegation. Dancing here is only used to sell sex. These numbers are as little related to psychology and emotions as the numbers in Lightning dance were detached from the plot. This makes it a particularly still and non-erotic spectacle.
# related # Soderbergh (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) shot the film in dark, off-center compositions and (under another pseudonym) cranked up the film’s quirky beats. He and his team, screenwriter Reid Carolin and director Gregory Jacobs, aren’t burlesque showmen; unable to articulate the skill and pleasure of the performance, they stage dances that lack emotional upliftment.
Tatum’s two solos are negated by an exaggerated finale. The dramatic results seem both timid and debased: when Mike and the troupe visit a female-owned brothel-like club, Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), they see Malik (Stephen “Twitch” Boss), who shows the exceptional acrobatics of a great and original dancer, but the scene itself has a sociological itch, promoting black sexuality as primitive, even corrupting. Its complement is a scene of white suburban women relaying their marital frustrations in an effort to seduce Mike’s smiling gang of wasters.
This reveals the intention of the filmmakers to exploit sex as a gadget rather than revealing an emotion. They seem surprised to have realized that Magic mike was a boon at the box office more than an exploration of the times. Thanks to their noble and understated existentialism, the dance numbers get nowhere: The stripper convention finale highlights several oddly unconvincing sets based on vague and macabre fetishes. Inspired by the ecclesiastical fashion show of far superior to Fellini’s Rome, this climax behind the scenes both indulges and condemns decadent desire and decadent work. There is no feeling for the investment of the artists or their audience in this circus. The policy of Magic Mike XXL don’t go crowded, they hang out with the crowd.
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The new non-musical French Eden also becomes existential. Director Mia Hansen-Løve follows 20 years in the life of Paul Vallée (Félix de Givry), a Parisian club DJ obsessed with American underground dance music. Paul, who seems little interested in the sensual pleasures of music and dance, reflects the coterie attitudes of hipster cinema geeks who despise the humanistic and aesthetic richness of classical cinema. For them, Hansen-Løve, her husband Olivier Assayas and even Soderbergh are cultural heroes whose lo-fi aesthetic aims to extract emotion and feeling from cinema.
Just like the dance numbers in Magic Mike XXL are separated by anomic interstitial scenes of actors looking into the distance, their backs to the camera, or in indistinguishable silhouettes, Hansen-Løve tells the end of the 1990s to the present era of dance music in an equally neutral. The trance music prevents the film from having a pulse because Hansen-Løve is against the pulse. Music and dance do not provide the characters in Eden joy or sense of accomplishment; they are like the prol in Magic Mike XXL, who cannot quite understand that they have embraced the diminishing concept that his work equals his value. Eden is a cavalcade of despair.
Hansen-Løve’s imagery is mostly peripheral, and his grim storytelling is characterized by Paul’s American expatriate girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) posting a short story titled “Lost Souls”. Career failures, suicides and betrayals have all led young boy and kid Paul to read with resignation poet Robert Creeley’s statement: “Everything is but a rhythm.” . . In death I died then / In life also dying.
Eden‘s chic estrangement denies sensuality just as Soderbergh’s style dulls the pleasure of Magic Mike XXL. These pessimistic non-musicians are also, ultimately, anti-cinema.
– Armond White, a film critic who writes about films for National review online, received the Anti-Censorship Award from the American Book Awards. He is the author of The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shaken the World and the next one What we don’t talk about when we talk about cinema.