In no particular order…
1. Matthew McConaughey commits awesomely to his role as Dallas, Club Xquisite’s owner and emcee. Not only is he sending up his star image (bongos make an appearance), but he adds a nervous edge and dark shading to a character whose exuberance could otherwise read too broad.
2. If you’ve seen Step Up, you know that Channing Tatum can dance. He proves it again in some truly mesmerizing dance sequences. (They’re among the only times you really feel like the camera is appreciating what it’s depicting, which is a deliberate and fascinating choice by director Steven Soderbergh, and it deserves its own number and discussion later.)
3. Soderbergh, who lensed, directed and edited this movie himself, serves up Tampa realness with his camera, using Florida-orange filters outdoors and tinges of green indoors to create a subtly uneasy feeling. There are traces of the tactician who lensed ‘Contagion’ here, including a lot of deep focus and minimal set decoration, but combined with the warm, witty touches of the ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘Out of Sight’ director who gained a lot of goodwill.
4. Alex Pettyfer—as Adam, a perpetual fuckup who Tatum’s Mike cajoles into stripping at Xquisite—is much improved from his turn in I Am Number Four. He has a tough job, making a character whose staggering self-centeredness makes him oblivious to most of what’s happening around him seem almost endearing in the early going. He falters at times, including scenes with his sister Brooke, played by Cody Horn. (Horn says she and Pettyfer worked on a backstory for their characters, but it doesn’t really show through in their early scenes together.) However, he redeems himself in the final scenes of the film, despite some shaky plot developments for his character.
5. Speaking of Cody Horn! I think it’s worth seeing the film just to decide how you feel about her performance. Some people have loathed it, and others, like me, think it’s endearingly straightforward and in keeping with Tatum’s breezily casual delivery. In particular…
6. The sequence in Club Xquisite in which the camera watches her watch her brother and Mike’s stripping routines, occasionally showing us what she sees (i.e. from the back of the club, detached and distant) is wonderfully constructed, and Horn’s poker face during the scene is great. Even better, it leads to…
7. Possibly my favorite shot in the entire film takes place at a sandbar party, when Mike comes up to Brooke and walks around the sandbar with her, talking about what she saw at the club. In my memory, this is one unbroken shot, but I could be wrong. (Although Horn also says she and Tatum improvised their dialogue for the scene and that Soderbergh used the first take, so it might very well be one extended shot.) In any case, Brooke and Mike walk around the sandbar while having this aforementioned conversation, and as they round a corner, the sunlight refracted off the water behind them dapples the lens. In that instant, whether by design or alchemy, the chemistry between them clicks and works in perfect harmony with the shot.
8. I don’t know if there’s a director better than Soderbergh at conveying booze-and-drug-addled mental states with just his camera. There are multiple technical mini-masterpieces in this film.
9. I’m not sure Channing Tatum’s Mike looks better or more charming than he does in a suit and glasses at the bank, about midway through the film. It’s Charm Offensive City in that banker’s office.
10. Olivia Munn proves that she is indeed an actress worth paying attention to for more than just her looks, even in her limited screen time as Joanna, a psychology grad student who likes having threesomes with Mike and waits an egregious amount of time before putting her shirt on while getting dressed. (You’re welcome, Avowedly Heterosexual Men of America.) Munn conveys Joanna’s shrewd people-reading abilities in a way that allows the camera to see her gears spinning. It’s a really lovely bit. The part she plays in the end is either a bridge too far or just about right, depending on how you feel about one of plotlines suddenly pushed toward denouement in the film’s final third.
11. The strippers’ routines are highly choreographed spectacles, and are often hilariously on-the-nose. For example, Ken (played by gay, partnered father of two Matt Bomer) does a routine in which he awkwardly dances out of a cellophane-wrapped package, as though he’s a Ken doll come to life. And that is probably the less ridiculous of Ken’s routines in the film.
12. A sight gag involving a slightly out-of-focus penis and penis pump (probably the only way this film avoided an NC-17) is admirably underplayed by Alex Pettyfer, and admirably hammed up by Joe Manganiello. (The penis is also not in focus because using the pump is just a part of Richie’s job, and it’s a doozy of an introduction to the job for Adam.)
13. Speaking of Joe’s Big Dick Richie, the subversive greatness of introducing Richie as he sews a gold thong back into working order informs the entire film.
14. Because here’s the thing about Magic Mike—it’s about work. Sorry, horny folks, but there are long stretches of this film that are devoted to depicting the life of lower-middle class Florida residents in a depressed economy. Mike holds down three jobs and desperately wants to invest his dream of owning a custom furniture business, but poor credit and the stigma associated with his stripping job—where most of his money evidently comes from—prevent him from doing this. So he aims to dance in Dallas’ club for equity in the club’s relocation to Miami, only to have that complicated in the third act of the film. It’s also about the work of stripping; I felt like the time at Club Xquisite was equally divided between the dance numbers and the behind-the-scenes of the club, which were not at all glamorous—substance abuse, counting money, hitting on women at other clubs to strategically bring them to Xquisite.
15. It’s in focusing on the work of stripping that Soderbergh breaks down the relationship between the camera and the sexualized gaze, because his camera is far more interested in labor than pleasure, and it shows. As a result, I think some people might be disappointed by the lack of real titillation in the film. Viewers are invited to gawk at the bodies on display, but we also have a scene to remind ourselves that there are rehearsals, gym sessions, choreography to nail down, guests to bring in, etc. We’re forced to relate the work that makes up the body to the body itself. That doesn’t make the film unsexy, but it does make it much more powerful than any shallow celebration of essentially naked male bodies. If you read nothing else in this paragraph, remember this: Channing Tatum’s abs + Soderbergh’s camera = anti-capitalist critique of the economy.
16. This is a remarkably sex-positive, drug-negative film. It’s rare to find that combination in Hollywood these days, and rarer style to be sex-positive without necessarily being super sexual.
17. This might be one of Soderbergh’s best films since sex, lies and videotape. There, I said it.