The Genre-Busting Pleasures of MAGIC MIKE XXL

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Somehow I wasn’t in line on the first day for Magic Mike XXL; even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first one, and heard nothing but raves about the film, it took me a month to see it. But I’m extraordinarily glad I finally did – I haven’t had that good of a time at the movies, well, maybe ever. So while most everything about the film has already been said – though I’d quickly like to give a shoutout to the fact that this movie sees female pleasure of all kinds as a transformative force – a few less obvious, though no less revolutionary, things have stuck with me.

  1. Metatextuality: This being the sequel to a Soderbergh film, the clever intertextuality of MMXXL isn’t actually that surprising. It’s remarkable for how effective it is, though: Gabriel Iglesias’ classic McConaughey impression when discussing how Dallas has gone to Macau; Andie McDowell, who may as well be reprising her character from Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape, warning us of the sexual desert of middle age; Channing Tatum’s literally tongue-in-cheek performance of “Pony” in his workshop; and, my favorite, Joe Manganiello’s horror and disgust at the troupe of male entertainers performing a Twilight routine. All these moments work together to build a film that never takes itself too seriously, and is, like its male entertainers, focused on the audience’s pleasure.
  2. Respect: Speaking of pleasure, the male entertainers all respect the need for pleasure, and joy, and hold it above anything else. They respect women; I can’t think of a single misogynistic comment throughout the entire film, which must be some kind of record. And while the film is incredibly heteronormative, there’s no homophobia, either; the guys get up on stage and do legit voguing at a drag show, with none of the “no homo” attitude we’ve come to expect from modern masculinity. And when Zoe (Amber Heard Depp) describes herself to Mike as going through a lesbian phase, he doesn’t mock her, or make any suggestive comments about how he can fix that. He just accepts it.
  3. That ending: I can’t express how glad I am that the stripped convention wasn’t a competition where they had to beat some young upstart group of male entertainers – instead, the only people they were competing with were themselves. This means that there can be a really satisfying ending without some totally manufactured conflict with an ending we see coming. Instead, the guys are able to perform to the best of their abilities, and “win” by doing their best, as cheesy as it sounds. And speaking of cheesy, the end, with a montage of July 4 good times set to “All I Do Is Win,” should be an eye-rolling affair. Instead, it’s a celebration of friendship and hard work! Plus Zoe and Mike don’t fall in love – she’s even seen throwing her arms around a group of women. How’s that for a nice ending? As the friend I went to the movie with said, “This is what Entourage should be.”

Dana’s Weekly Roundup

It’s a frustrating thing to have so many ideas about things to write on (seriously, I have a very full Google Doc with things I hope to get to one day…) but not have the inspiration, or the energy to do it. To throw myself back into writing about film, here’s the first Dana’s Weekly Roundup, a quick digest of all the films I’ve watched in the past seven days!

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To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942): It doesn’t seem possible, or at least wise, to ever make a romantic comedy-backstage drama-espionage thriller set in occupied Poland, not to mention making it in 1942. Leave it to Lubitsch to do it, and to make it a true masterpiece. Carole Lombard and Jack Benny star as Maria and Joseph Tura, the most famous actors in Poland, whose company is putting on a performance of Hamlet while the Nazi occupation begins. Ms. Tura becomes involved in the Polish resistance, roping in Mr. Tura through his own stubbornness, and a plot to bring down the Nazis in Poland comes down to the downtrodden troupe of actors. Of course, this being a Lubitsch film, there’s a frankly portrayed love triangle, as Maria is also in love with Polish airman Robert Stack. There are so many disparate parts to the film – the love triangle, the crosses and double-crosses of espionage, the broadly funny set pieces for Benny – that it would easily seem disjointed, but it’s Lubitsch’s expert eye, as well as the cast’s impeccable timing, that make the film a true masterwork. It’s hilarious, and touching, often at once, as well as bold and daring, especially considering its date. Very highly recommended!

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The Smiling Lieutenant (Ernst Lubitsch, 1931) I could honestly just watch Lubitsch films all the time, so we followed up To Be and Not to Be with The Smiling Lieutenant – love triangles aside, they could not be more different films. The Smiling Lieutenant stars frequent Lubitsch collaborator Maurice Chevalier as the titular army man, who is in love with Claudette Colbert, the leader of a beerhall touring-all-women’s orchestra (!!!). Chevalier pitches woo left and right, and soon he misdirects his ardor to the Princess of Flausenhaum, a neurotic, repressed, delightful Miriam Hopkins.

This is pre-code Lubitsch in all his glory – the innuendos zing by at lightning speed, and there’s a complicated love triangle that ends with the two rivals becoming friends (of a sort) – Colbert sings a song called “Jazz Up Your Lingerie” to Hopkins to help her win over Chevalier once and for all. This is the thing I loved most about the film – the two women aren’t angry at each other over the lieutenant; instead, they’re both sad about the circumstances, but Colbert understands the die is cast against her and decides to non-bitterly help her “rival” instead. That’s so much more progressive than most romantic comedies that have come since.

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Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) I’ve been interested to see Losing Ground since it was presented at Lincoln Center earlier this year – the rediscovery of the first film directed by a black American woman is something to celebrate! While I didn’t make it to the run at Lincoln Center, I’m glad I got the opportunity to check it out during BAM’s (excellent) Indie 80s series. Seret Scott is magnetizing as Sara, a philosophy professor researching religious ecstasy over the summer break, when she rents a house in upstate NY with her artist husband Victor (director Bill Gunn of Ganja & Hess fame). On the brink of his first real success as an artist, Victor declares he’s over abstraction and is ready to embrace nature, and beauty, particularly in the form of Celia, a resident of the small town they inhabit that summer. Through her marital crisis, Sara gets a lead role in a senior thesis film, where she lets her hair down (literally) and dances with an older, becaped gentleman.

The first half of the film is a little clunky – most of the dialogue is expository and didn’t seem right coming out of any of the characters’ mouths. As the film went on, however, the colors became more brilliant, the motion more fluid, and the emotions more believable. A scene by the pool at the very end of the film, and especially Sara’s long-gestating venting of her feelings towards her husband, almost made me want to stand up and applaud (and I generally hate things like that in the theater). While the 80s score really hobbles the emotion of the film, the acting and beautiful direction overcomes it by the end, and it’s a real lost gem of American cinema.