Until today, I hadn't seen a Steven Soderbergh film since Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989. I actually waited in line in West Hollywood to see SL&V along with a line several blocks long of people my age. Sex, Lies, and Videotape was the first film of a filmmaker sure to be the voice of a generation.
Then something happened. Hollywood happened to Steven Soderbergh and like many brilliant young filmmakers he went off to find his fortune, and that he did. I've just been waiting for him to come back home and take up where he left off: telling very human stories from very humble places that are bigger than life.
In Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh takes that most mysterious and minority of professions, the male stripper, and turns the heart inside out. With the delicacy of a surgeon he cuts along the edge of the colorful, popular image of the Chippendales idea and delivers instead the man as sex object, as the down and outer with no other resource but his body, as the guy with a dream but little luck.
Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of his career as Dallas, the owner of a small time Tampa strip club who realizes his dream of moving the show to Miami. Dallas is always slightly strung out with an almost reptilian gaze and the quirk of a stage mother. Under that is a hardness, an almost cruelty, but not quite. This is one complex and subtlely played turn from McConaughey. Quite simply, don't miss it.
As the incredibly popular Magic Mike, Channing Tatum brings grounding to the scene with a subtle and well tuned performance as the beautiful, striving, maybe not the brightest thirty year old stripper around. Channing Tatum can really dance and his pathos skims along the surface in this role, not too deep, not too light, just right. Rather than the typical agonizing conflict between what one wants and does not have, Channing goes for the human reality of living life on life's terms and in what is really a silent performance at the end, makes a decision about love and acts without movie drama or fireworks or grand endings. He works, it works, because Steven Soderbergh directed a film about what he knows best: the everyday life on a grand scale.
The Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer, is the man in the middle, too young, too beautiful, too hungry, but again, Pettyfer walks carefully through it. He plays a young man who is quite okay with his appetities, who is going to cop his slice of the pie and gobble it down for all it's worth. He is neither grandiose nor tragic. Pettyfer plays The Kid at eye level, never wavering, never apologetic. He is one to watch.
There's always a girl and what a girl she is. There is a kind of Soderbergh woman and Cody Horn as Brooke is it. Uniquely beautiful, direct, intelligent and self possessed, she is the sister, the mom, the loved one. Horn plays the sister of The Kid and makes a decision to root as he wanders, to love as he plays, to be the one to come home to. Played with a rare natural quality by an actress who clearly knows who she is, Cody Horn reminds me of a young Gena Rowlands.
This review makes makes me a bit of a Soderbergh woman, I guess. Welcome home, Steven. It's good to see you again.