Male strippers and girl power might sound unlikely, but “Magic Mike XXL” puts the ladies first.
I went to see the movie as a guilty pleasure over the weekend. Abs and sultry dance moves sounded like fireworks to me, but it was the women who put on the big show. Jada Pinkett Smith, Andie MacDowell and Amber Heard aren’t just flashes of femininity on the screen in between images of half-naked men. They are empowered.
Pinkett Smith’s role as Rome was originally intended for Jamie Foxx. He was supposed to be a new version of Matthew McConaughey’s Dallas, the impresario from the first film. But the star and producer, Channing Tatum, realized the movie needed a strong woman if it was really going to cater to women (96 percent of the opening weekend crowd was female).
And Rome isn’t just Mike’s ex-girlfriend, a former dancer herself. She is an entrepreneur. She runs her own private male entertainment service and refers to her female clientele as “queens,” encouraging them to own their sexuality. She is the boss. And without her, Mike and his Kings of Tampa can’t burn the stage down one last time. She is their emcee. When not even Magic Mike’s charm can get them a slot at a stripper convention, it is Rome’s swag that wins over the gatekeeper, played by Elizabeth Banks.
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It’s worth noting that both actresses are over 40, but their ages aren’t mentioned in the movie and shouldn’t be. Celebrating the sexy at all ages should never be restricted to men, as Hollywood seems to do.
“I think it’s just time. I think women are ready to self-actualize in an erotic, sexual manner. I think that women are becoming less afraid,” Pinkett Smith told The Associated Press. “We need time to really explore that territory.”
Nancy, played by MacDowell, 57, is fearless. This Southern divorcée steals the screen when Mike and his entourage stumble into her Charleston home by invitation of her daughter. Over wine, with her friends as well as her daughter and her crew, they frankly discuss sex, love and marriage. They aren’t a pack of cougars, they are simply women. And it’s possible that Nancy is the perfect fit Richie (Joe Manganiello) has been looking for his entire life.
The men in the movie know, as Mike points out to Richie in a comedic convenience store scene, “your job is to make her smile.” Not even Heard, who plays an aspiring photographer, is just there to play love interest to Mike. It’s a friendship.
The men do not treat the women as a joke. They don’t dismiss the drag queens they dance with at a Jacksonville club as a cheap thrill. Pleasing the women pleases the men. Just because a woman is in a strip club does not make her a sexual pariah. Just as men enjoy themselves, so do women.
That’s one of the underlying messages of this movie: You can still be a lady and be sexual. And that’s the real rabbit in the magician’s hat of “Magic Mike XXL.”