2015 was loaded with wonderful films. These wonderful films spanned the breadth of the cinematic experience from epic to internal with some doing both at the very same time. A couple of my now all-time favorites came during this year. For the films receiving and more than deserving of these accolades, there is one movie that came harder, pleased greater, loved longer and bared more goods than the rest. That movie is Magic Mike XXL.
“Guess I know what today is gonna be like.”
Being the follow-up to Steven Soderbergh’s surprise hit, Magic Mike, Magic Mike XXL felt to the uninitiated like a cheap cash-in to a title that made some money based only slightly on star Channing Tatum’s titillating life. Well, yeah, there is that, but Magic Mike XXL (known henceforth simply as XXL) knows exactly what made the first film work and what to build from, what to jettison and what to amp up on a second go-around.
XXL decides very early on that it wants to focus on being a good time first and foremost. Magic Mike was at its most stagnant when telling its story about the loss of innocence. XXL isn’t about that at all. We’re all adults here, it says, and it wants to pleasure us as much as possible while we are in its presence.
With the fairy-tale relationship from Magic Mike not having worked out, Mike (Channing Tatum) is trying to justify living a life barely getting by even if it is through his initial dream of creating custom-made furniture. When Tarzan (Kevin Nash) calls Mike to tell him that former manager/pimp Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) is no longer with the team, Mike assumes Dallas has departed this world when he has actually just bounced for greener pastures overseas. Still, this abandonment leaves the Kings of Tampa with enough freedom to seek out success on their own, even if they don’t know how to achieve it.
“If you’re going to be here, be here, man. Be present.”
The Kings consider this their “Last Ride” as they travel to Myrtle Beach in search of a small bit of glory at the local stripper showcase. There is personal redemption at stake as each character alongside Tatum is looking for what they love in this world and how to please those who share in that particular fascination. The most lovely thing about XXL is that it is entirely about loving who you are as a person and how you’re able to circulate that love back into the world. This message makes XXL one of the most positive movies to have ever graced our screens.
Early on, Mike is still straddling the line between two worlds: one being this ludicrous road trip and the other handling his fledgling furniture business through his cell phone. The guys won’t have any of this wishy-washy attitude and Mike’s phone gets tossed out the window of the food truck they’re all sharing. Mike is forced to let go completely of the life he thinks he wants and to dive straight into the life that he doesn’t yet remember how much he loves. XXL wants us to know that there is very little room for not being present in a situation. Whether you’re in class, at work, making love, dancing or just talking to someone, choose to give yourself over to the moment and listen and engage.
Donald Glover’s character, Andre, makes his entire living off of listening and being present. As one of Rome’s (Jada Pinkett Smith) dancers at her estate, Andre doesn’t even try to share the same talents of other dancers like Malik (Stephen “Twitch” Boss) or Augustus (Michael Strahan) which are more physical and primal. Instead, he asks a woman a couple of questions: “What’s your name”, “What do you love” and he raps to her, having only the most basic of information. Andre strips down what a woman says to him and gives it back to her, interpreting her words and internalizing them almost immediately. He’s not just listening, he’s engaging. Clothes end up coming off because, duh, but that is secondary to understanding what another person truly wants and keying on those details first.
“Well I’d say it’s still your day, ma’am.”
One particular thread involves Joe Manganiello’s “Big Dick” Richie aching to find a woman who can handle how massive his penis is. On the page, this can be viewed as crass and, if mishandled, would have shoved this movie into the realm of chauvinism. Its unfolding, however, is a metaphor for Richie wanting to find a woman who can accept him for who he is. Richie is a genuinely sweet man who hasn’t been able to have sex with a woman for five months (I know this isn’t actually a long time but for a man who is a stripper and who also happens to look like Joe Manganiello, I’m sure it’s an eternity) because a characteristic of his that he can’t control literally doesn’t fit with most women. This is who he is. When feeling down about this, Richie gains a thrust of confidence from Mike and the gang when they convince him to go into a convenience store and make the thoroughly uninterested female clerk smile.
Making a woman happy is his therapy.
In another detour, the Kings come across a group of southern belles having a ladies night over many bottles of wine in an expansive manor. The guys are initially there to find a younger, previous acquaintance but are intercepted by her mother and are immediately found out of their intentions. In a broader comedy, this rendezvous would turn into a raunchy strip-session where the group of “older” women are revealed to be horny milfs who, surprise!, enjoy watching Channing Tatum get naked. Instead, the Kings and the women discuss getting older, unfulfilling relationships, marriages without passion and screwing with the lights off. Once ex-housewife, Nancy (Andie MacDowell), expresses her sexual frustrations having only ever been with one man, Richie tells her exactly what she needs to hear: that she is wanted. Richie just unknowingly found his “glass slipper” and did so by being a kind, charming man. Nancy was able to handle his immensity not necessarily because of any physical difference but because Richie opened her up emotionally. When Mike asks Richie in the morning if Nancy was the glass slipper, Richie’s coy response strikes deeper than a kiss-and-tell dudebro boast.
“Look, it’s not bro time, it’s show time. Are you guys ready?”
XXL is also a movie of the most interesting sort in that it showcases professionals being very, very good at their jobs. Channing Tatum’s first dance of the movie, when he rediscovers his roots grinding to “Pony” in his toolshed, is arguably the coolest of the film and the theatrics and talent only escalate from there. Soderbergh serves as director of photography on XXL (under a pseudonym) and it’s clear that he knows how to shoot these men, which largely is just to leave the camera where it is and let the love unfold. That isn’t to say his work is easy, Soderbergh’s and director, Gregory Jacobs’, lens selection is much more complex than a hit-the-road comedy ever needs to be. We are always watching the events unfold at their most vital moment and from the most interesting perspective.
Witnessing this film in a packed theater full of women is an admittedly biased event but a powerful one nonetheless. The communal theatrical experience is what distinguishes going to the movies from Netflix and chilling your way through “Breaking Bad”. XXL plays big and loud and it is personal enough to draw you in through subtlety, to warm you up, to get you hot and bothered and to finally release its emotional catharsis all over the room. Unlike the jerk and tug of many summer blockbusters, XXL looks deep into your eyes and pillow-talks you through a loving embrace all while being engrossingly filthy. It is a true love.
Magic Mike XXL deserves hours and hours of discussion. Mike at one point declares, when talking with Amber Heard’s character, Zoe, that, “Yes, my God is a She.” Again, taken out of context that can be seen as some cute feministic throwaway line, but it is actually the truth of Mike’s character. Woman is his God as she is the express purpose he and the rest of the Kings of Tampa are on this planet. They worship Woman for Woman is their livelihood and the truest sense of their selves. Each character might have a goal outside of stripping but they are all here on this trip because they’ve been denying who they really are which is men who ache to please others. Denying who you are as a person is the surefire way to experience sadness even in the light of success. Throwing away your fireman costume and jumping into your big wedding night sex swing because that’s all you’ve ever wanted is triumph.
That is what Magic Mike XXL is: an absolute triumph of personality.
And also a damned good time.