Movie Review: Gone Girls & Nice Guys*.

Gone Girl Nick Dunne smile

The movie version of Gone Girl, starring Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne and Rosamund Pike in the title role and based on the 2012 book of the same name by Gillian Flynn, was released in theatres in October. While Flynn’s manuscript gives equal time to its disturbed married main characters in the form of Amy Dunne’s (Pike) dairy entries and alternating chapters from Nick’s point of view, the film adaptation made it clear that Gone Girl isn’t about the gone girl in question at all, but about her NiceGuy™ husband, who is sick and tired of all the “crazy bitch whores” in his life “picking [him] apart”, and how he deals with his wife’s sudden disappearance. Sounds like a real nice guy to me!

Affleck’s early roles in Kevin Smith’s late ’90s odes to man-children, Mallrats and Chasing Amy, are apt precursors to the film directed by David Fincher and adapted for the screen by Flynn herself. Nick spent the majority of the 2 ½ hour-plus movie chasing another Amy when it emerges that his wife’s apparent kidnapping—or, god forbid, murder—was an elaborate, sociopathic ruse to frame the inattentive and at times abusive Nick. Through Amy’s diary entries we see that the oft-mused about “Cool Girl” she’s led her husband, the audience and, indeed, herself to believe she embodies is nothing more than a narcissistic reverse Pygmalion creation. To refresh, Cool Girls are, “Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me. I don’t mind. I’m the Cool Girl.

“Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl.”

Let us study the ways in which Amy and Nick Dunne play right into these fictions.

Much has been made of the abovementioned Cool Girl, and while Amy is by no means an innocent victim in the cat-and-mouse game her marriage devolves into, Flynn—both on paper and screen—also crafted an interesting commentary on Nice Guys and their entitlement to women.

Flynn writes in the book that Nick would “literally lie, cheat, and steal—hell, kill—to convince people you are a good guy” and not the “daddy’s boy” who abuses women. Pages later: “Women are fucking crazy. No qualifier: Not some women, not many women. Women are crazy.”

At the risk of sounding like a misandrist victim-blamer, in a way Nick almost deserves what Amy does to him, not only for shoving her into a wall and calling her and other women “fucking cunts”, but also for his utter unwillingness to take responsibility for his part in his toxic marriage. He even needs to be prompted by the lead detective on Amy’s case, Rhonda Boney (played by Kim Dickens on screen), to notify his missing wife’s parents of her disappearance. Flynn writes that Nick let himself “drift on in the miserable situation, assuming that at some point Amy would take charge. Amy would demand a divorce, and then I would get to be the good guy… This desire—to escape the situation without blame—was despicable.” In his effort to come across as the consummate Nice Guy, Nick becomes a doormat for Amy’s wicked ways. After all, Nick “couldn’t bear to have everyone in this family-values town believe he’s the kind of guy who’d abandon his wife and child. He’d rather stay and suffer with me. Suffer and resent and rage.” And suffer and resent and rage he does.

Using perceived niceness as a scapegoat is also a tactic Amy employs when she frames a second man in her quest for revenge. Desi Collings, played eerily in the film by Neil Patrick Harris, was an obsessive high school boyfriend of Amy’s with whom she’d kept in touch in the two decades since because “it’s good to have at least one man you can use for anything”. When Amy’s initial plan to live off the grid while she sent Nick “to the woodshed” goes awry, she uses the reliable, but equally-as-controlling-as-Nick Desi to shelter her from the storm while she contemplates her next move (hint: it involves a lot of blood). In the aftermath of Amy’s return, she maintains that she just “tried to be nice to [Desi]”. Here Amy plays into the excuse used by victim-blamers far and wide: you were too nice to him, that’s why he followed you home/raped you/murdered you.

The “Blurred Lines” of consent that Gone Girl alludes to here can be seen in the 2013 song of the same name by Robin Thicke. In a meta move on the part of the movie’s casting director, model Emily Ratajkowski, who appears topless and performing suggestive acts with animals and balloons in the “Blurred Lines” video, can also be seen in her first major feature film role as Nick’s college-aged mistress. Long after Thicke ceased to be pop culturally relevant his “rape anthem” is still inspiring sociopaths the world over.

Speaking of, Nick’s lawyer in the film, “defender of white killers everywhere” Tanner Bolt (Tyler Perry) conjures images of the Isla Vista shooting rampage committed by college student Elliot Rodger in May this year. Rodger’s 140-page manifesto and video messages vilifying “blonde sluts” who “starved me of sex” gave motive to his attacks on both men and women. In an effort to debunk that #NotAllMen are misogynist time bombs just waiting to rape and murder women—#YesAllWomen—and prove that patriarchy hurts all genders the respective hashtags and a social media debate was spawned. The theatrical release of Gone Girl poses more questions as to whether social media campaigns like this are successful: were general audiences unfamiliar with the scathing commentary on gender Flynn crafts on the page savvy enough to pick up on it in the theatre?

Like Rodgers’ misogynistic missive that led to the deaths of six people, Amy constructs a manifesto of her own. Upon the first encounter of Gone Girl, you’d be confused as to whether the internalised misogyny that Amy spews in her fake dairy entries is what Flynn truly believes or a dissection of it. Does Gone Girl perpetuate the all-to-common attitudes that women are lying, manipulative bitches and their male partners “dancing monkeys”?

On the whole, the Gone Girl narrative as told on film is essentially about the Nice Guy who’s judged in the court of public opinion to have murdered and disposed of his wife. At Amy’s candlelight vigil, Nick takes the time to defend himself against the media’s accusations that he’s creepy (“but hot”, as some “groupie whores” deem him to be), socially inept and an obviously guilty spouse instead of, you know, pleading for information that might help lead to finding the “gone girl” in question.

As Amy writes in an attempt to justify her scheme, “everyone loves the Dead Girl”. This may be so, but we have a deeper desire to get to know the white men who abuse the “unwanted, inconvenient,” formerly Cool Girls than the Dead Girls themselves. And unfortunately, Gone Girl doesn’t suggest otherwise.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] Jennifer Lawrence & the History of Cool Girls.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Fat Movie Guy.

The Problem with Sex & the City 2.

sex and the city 2 carrie book review

I’ve been thinking and wanting to write about Sex & the City 2 for quite some time, but I was never sure of the right angle to take. Having just rewatched the whole series, culminating in the arguably ill-fated films, I think I’m ready to dip my toe in the shark-infested waters that surround Sex & the City 2.

SATC2 picks up where the first film left off: the franchise’s ascent into affluence but its decent of integrity. And where better to splash some new money than the “new” Middle East: Abu Dhabi.

I stand by the series and even the first movie, but Carrie and the girls are pressing my loyalty with their Arabian adventure. Samantha throwing condoms around the souk in an effort to assert her empowerment (a sentiment I don’t disagree with, but can we please respect multiculturalism?) followed by some covered Muslim women revealing their gaudy designer garb under their abayas and hijabs because FASHUN = the end of gender inequality could certainly have been omitted from the second cinematic outing and it still would have been a semi-palatable film. While these antics blatantly show how out of touch SATC has become, the girls’ ignorance is echoed throughout the film when Charlotte gets sucked into having “the Forbidden Experience” (purchasing black market designer wares) and questions what the call to prayer means. You’d think that before jetting off to the land of “desert moons, Scheherazade and magic carpets” women who are as free as they are would be a little more in touch with the culture and what’s expected of them there. Smart Traveller, hello?!

What I do like about the Middle Eastern flair of the film, though, is the thematic parallels between women wearing veils to silence their voices and the question of whether Carrie, after five books and countless “I couldn’t help but wonder”’s (literally; I lost count after about ten when I rewatched the series. Repetition, much?!), should shut up.

This seems to be the consensus, as New York magazine’s review of her latest book, I Do! Do I?, is titled “The Vow of Silence”. And in the accompanying illustration, Carrie is drawn with tape across her mouth, to echo the silencing of their Middle Eastern counterparts: “It’s like they don’t want them to have a voice,” Carrie observes. Synergy!

The concept of women’s voices is echoed elsewhere in the films’ storylines, with Miranda quitting her job because her misogynist boss didn’t respect her “strong female voice”, and Charlotte blaming Samantha for “open[ing] her big mouth” about her hot, braless nanny being a distraction for Harry.

Looking back on enlightenment of the series, it makes me sad that the insight into women’s lives, sex and otherwise, that it was so famous for has been completely erased from Sex & the City 2 in the name of capitalism and cultural insensitivity.

Related: In Defence of Sex & the City.

Movies: Ruby Sparks & The Catcher in the Rye*.

As I have written over the past week or so, there are many ways to interpret Ruby Sparks, whether as a commentary on the indie movie phenomenon of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl or the abusive nature of protagonist Calvin and title character Ruby’s relationship.

But I also picked up on the use of Catcher in the Rye as a sort of metaphor for Calvin’s tortured soul and his equally tortured relationship with Ruby. The intertwining of Calvin’s obsession with the way people perceive his dog, Scotty, and thereby perceive him, is made all the more symbolic in the scene where Calvin comes home late to discover Scotty’s trashed his room, peed in his bed and eaten a copy of J.D. Salinger’s seminal work.

It’s not really until the end of the movie that all the subtle references to the book come together as pieces of the puzzle. For those of you who have read Catcher in the Rye (I would assume everyone has, but those who I’ve spoken to about the movie in the hopes of getting their thoughts on the inclusion of the book as a theme have been unenlightened as to Holden Caulfield’s story), it could be interpreted that none of what Holden describes throughout the novel actually happened, as his mental capacity is questionable. Calvin is akin to a modern day Holden Caulfield, if only in terms of mental health, in that he sees a shrink (though in the creative world, who doesn’t?), has skewed views of what women should be and literally imagines his dream girl into existence.

This calls into question the turn of events depicted in the movie. Did Calvin imagine Ruby and their whole relationship? Did he black out around the time he met her, wrote about her and, reading back over his work, doesn’t remember how he met her, thereby making himself believe that she came to life from his writing? We know his family met and loved Ruby, but could that be a construction of his imagination? Holden concludes Catcher in the Rye in a mental facility; is that were Calvin tells his story from, too?

To further support the notion that something’s not right with Calvin’s account of his relationship with Ruby, his shrink, Dr. Rosenthal, asks him if he’s sure Ruby’s not real…

To employ the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope here, too, Ruby initially functions as a female version of Calvin to somehow narcissistically improve his existence. That he writes her to be depressed, then euphoric, then back again, and looks at her with pity when she expresses these extreme emotions could be seen as Calvin dealing with his own emotional ups and downs.

I don’t have the answers and there’s a good chance that I’m overthinking Ruby Sparks too much, but from my point of view there are endless realms of possibility the film could be taken in to.

What do you think?

Related: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Ruby Sparks & the Abusive Relationship.

*Blanket spoiler alert for both Ruby Sparks AND The Catcher in the Rye.

Image via The Thousands.

Movies: Ruby Sparks & the Abusive Relationship*.

I first went into Ruby Sparks thinking it was going to be just another quirky, indie (500) Days of Summer-esque vehicle to cement writer and star Zoe Kazan as the newest Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the same first name to watch.

For the first third of the movie, I wasn’t wrong. It deals with main character Calvin’s decade-long writers block and feelings of “inadequacy” at not being able to live up to his “genius” and “boy wonder” monikers upon the release of his first (and only) novel when he was in his late teens. Naturally, the role of titular character and token MPDG, Ruby, is to come into Calvin’s life in a whirlwind of “messy”-ness, complication and coloured tights and help him out of his creative rut. Ruby Sparks is the exception to the MPDG rule, though, as where (500) Days’ Summer and Sam of Garden State are real women (though “girls” would be a more accurate description) whom the male protagonists envision as their ideal mates, Ruby is literally Calvin’s dream lover: he wrote her on his pretentious typewriter.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Kazan responds to the idea of Ruby Sparks as a critique of the MPDG and how she didn’t initially have that goal when she wrote the screenplay. She also talks about the twist in the third act in which Calvin’s need to have Ruby conform to his dream girl stereotype turns into an abusive obsession with controlling her:

“I think if you’re going to make a movie in which a man can control a woman, if you don’t push it to the extreme, it’s going to be sexist.”

It’s funny she said that, as I had trouble reconciling the fact that a seemingly switched-on woman wrote Ruby Sparks with the first half of it which, as I mentioned above, had one of the only female characters succumb to the idea of what a certain kind of woman should be. (Then again, men don’t have a monopoly on sexism.) “You haven’t written a person; you’ve written a girl,” Calvin’s brother, Harry, tells him upon reading his first draft.

Ruby is a girl who at first seems like a fun-loving, spirited artist with no threatening aspirations of capitalising on her illustrative talents (she admits she’s “super good”) by parlaying them into a career. When Ruby does express a desire to get out of the house more, meet some people and maybe get a job, Calvin begs her to stay with him because “I don’t need anyone else”, and neither should she.

It emerges that Calvin’s last serious lover was a novelist, too, whom he bumps into at a book party at which Ruby frolics in her underwear in the pool with Calvin’s agent and subsequently gets slut-shamed by her boyfriend for it. Calvin’s ex tells him that “it’s like you had this image of me and anything I did to contradict it you just ignored… The only person you wanted to be in a relationship with was you.”

Ruby in her original form, before Calvin starts making “tweaks” the moment she develops some autonomy, is essentially a female version of her creator. Not only has Kazan taken the notion of the MPDG and the trope’s traditional role in shaping and changing her male counterparts’ life and turned it on its head, but she has indeed taken Ruby and Calvin’s relationship to the extreme in the ultimate spin on intimate partner abuse.

When Ruby’s had enough and suggests she stay at her apartment after the book party, Calvin reveals he has utter control over her because she’s not real. While on the surface the suspension of disbelief required by the audience makes this a true statement in the context of the film, the more insidious subtext is that Calvin has such a skewed view of what women should be that it seems he’s saying that not only does Ruby not exist in real life, but nor do real women in his. In fact, they’re more like domestic animals to be controlled, as with Calvin’s written manipulation of Ruby in this scene where he types her on all fours barking like a dog: the ultimate act of degradation.

Speaking of dogs, Calvin’s inferiority complex which so many abusive partners have is evident in his treatment of his dog, Scotty, named for fellow tortured soul and wife-beater, F. Scott Fitzgerald. He prefers the idea of a dog as opposed to actually being a pet owner, because he’d like fellow park-goers to “stop to pet him and I would meet them but Scotty gets scared when people try to pet him”. He gets defensive when Scotty goes to the toilet like a female canine as, by extension, it threatens Calvin’s masculinity. Of course Calvin appropriates Ruby’s shine to Scotty despite or perhaps because of his oddities into a metaphor for her feelings towards her future abuser.

If it wasn’t for the happily-ever-after cop-out of an ending, what initially seemed like the indie movie du jour has turned into a commentary on Manic Pixie Dream Girls and the danger of emotionally abusive relationships.

Related: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Elsewhere: [HuffPo] Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks Writer & Star: “Quirky” Means Nothing.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Groucho Reviews.

Movies: Ruby Sparks & the Manic Pixie Dream Girl*.

Below is the original post I had in mind when first going to see indie movie Ruby Sparks, written by and staring who I perceived to be the token Manic Pixie Dream Girl of the moment, Zoe Kazan.

Two screenings later and Ruby Sparks is anything but the cliché Garden State/Elizabethtown/(500) Days of Summer flick I thought it was going to be. In fact, I was so inspired by the movie that there will be several articles about it appearing on this here blog over the next week or two, dealing with its take on abusive relationships, the psychology of its protagonist, Calvin, and the inspiration the film draws from Catcher in the Rye. But first, let’s examine Ruby Sparks as the anti-MPDG.

*

I know this girl who wears quirky owl-print dresses and is into obscure strains of literature. She’s not a friend per se, and her tendency to cry at the drop of a hat rubs me the wrong way, but I don’t not like her. More to the point, her existence puzzles me.

I have a few male acquaintances who worship the ground she walks on, and who RSVP to her Facebook invites to attend human rights marches and to go bushwalking when they’ve never spent a day in nature or in non-white, non-straight male shoes in their lives. To them, I think she embodies their idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a feminist film phenomenon I’m sure they’ve never heard of but that has been dominating the indie movie scene (read: anything Zooey Deschanel’s been in) for the past few years.

I don’t know this girl too well, but I don’t think she herself is a MPDG. Her hard-for-other-women-to-get-to-know façade and seemingly archetypal attributes make her the perfect canvas for twenty-something men struggling to find themselves to project their hopes and desires onto (despite the small fact that she has a boyfriend!), much like Calvin does to the titular character in the movie Ruby Sparks. The difference is, though, that Calvin literally created Ruby to be his perfect girlfriend via his pretentious typewriter.

Ruby is one of those annoying, “quirky” (though don’t let writer-star Zoe Kazan hear you say that; she told The Huffington Post that she hates that word. “[Quirky] means nothing,” Kazan said.), sunshiney girls who floats around in an artistic (she’s an illustrator, of course, and “super good” at it), hipster-esque existence. She may be a “motherfucking product of my imagination”, marvels Calvin, but she’s from Dayton, Ohio, because the location “sounds romantic”. She got kicked out of school for sleeping with her “art or Spanish teacher”. Ruby doesn’t own a computer or drive, and she’s “complicated” because she “forgets to open bills”. She’s “such a mess”, but not to worry: Calvin loves her mess. Ever the voice of reason, Calvin’s brother, Harry deposes that “quirky messy women whose problems only make them more endearing are not real.” The MPDG fetishisation of incapability is something I’ll never understand: isn’t the hallmark of being a together, grown-up person and, indeed, partner, to be able to take care of yourself and, at the very least, pay your bills? Maybe I should ask my abovementioned man boy friends to enlighten me on the allure…

What Ruby isn’t in her original form is a whole person. She’s just an extension of Calvin’s indie man-child persona: the ultimate MPDG who breaks with tradition to make the observation that “we’re the same person”. Again, Harry enlightens Calvin with his words of wisdom: “You haven’t written a person; you’ve written a girl.”

As Calvin stops writing Ruby she evolves into an individual, with desires and feelings that don’t always conform to Calvin’s “platonic ideal of Your Girlfriend”. A film that from the Kaiser Chiefs-infused trailer could be presumed to be about the MPDG du jour evolves into somewhat of a critique of the restrictions of the Pygmalion myth, even though that might not be what Kazan set out to do. On the trope:

“I just think the [MPDG] term really means nothing; it’s just a way of reducing people’s individuality down to a type, and I think that’s always a bad thing. And I think that’s part of what the movie is about, how dangerous it is to reduce a person down to an idea of a person.”

In a signature Ruby Sparks meta moment of self-awareness, Calvin expresses to his therapist that girls only want to date the author of his one-hit-wonder novel they read in high school, not him. “They’re not interested in me. They’re interested in some idea of me.” Hmm, sounds familiar doesn’t it, Calvin?

Perhaps my mates who trail along after their dream girl like a puppy dog as she attends pottery class and dates with her boyfriend could take a page out of Kazan’s book as opposed to Calvin’s…

Elsewhere: [HuffPo] Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks Writer & Star: “Quirky” Means Nothing.

[Vulture] Zoe Kazan Does Not Write Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Enthunder.

Movies: The Expendables 2 — Enough with the Old Men, Let’s Get Some Women Up in Here!

Sitting through The Expendables 2 last week, with plastic surgery-ravaged male faces, gory death scenes and laugh-out-loud (not in a good way), face-palming dialogue, it got me thinking about a recent rumour that there might be a female Expendables-esque movie coming to a screen near you.

While some of the names thrown around—Tia Carrere, Lucy Lawless—are a bit lacklustre, allow me to suggest a few actresses. And seeing as this is essentially a “fantasy football” Expenda-belles exercise, I’m going to be as bold as I can. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

  • Angelina Jolie.
  • The Charlie’s Angels girls: Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz and especially Lucy Lui.
  • Uma Thurman.
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar.
  • Pamela Anderson.
  • Kate Beckinsale.
  • Milla Jovovich.
  • Vivica A. Fox.
  • The ladies of Charmed, but Shannen Doherty and Rose McGowan in particular.
  • Michelle Rodriguez.
  • Neve Campbell.
  • Linda Hamilton.
  • And, of course, the Holy Grail of female action stars: Sigourney Weaver.

Now, some of these actresses have transcended being associated with a potential film franchise that originally started out as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, written by Sylvester Stallone (Angelina, anyone?). But having said that, I think a lot of them would be up for it. Linda Hamilton has guest starred on Chuck as the titular character’s mother, so she knows how to capitalise on her action heroine status, and Sigourney Weaver made what could be seen as the cameo of the year in Cabin in the Woods, so I wouldn’t rule her out, either. Then there are others—Doherty, McGowan, Anderson, Campbell—who don’t seem to have much else going on in their careers at the moment, so I think they’d be shoo-ins.

My housemate and I were talking about an Expenda-belles effort recently, and he brought up that there would have to be a villain to rival Jean Claude Van Damme’s in the most recent instalment, and a love interest. He came up with everybody’s favourite love-to-hate movie star, Sharon Stone, as the villain, and the non-threatening, token love interest in films such as Miss Congeniality, Benjamin Bratt. If you include Halle Berry, this film is pretty much turning into Catwoman! Well, at least it’ll be better than the original…

Related: The Expendables Review.

Cabin in the Woods Review.

Image via Expendables Premiere.

Movies: Gazing at Magic Mike.

A version of this article originally appeared at TheVine.

“You know the apocalypse is nigh when men want to see a movie about a talking teddy bear and women want to see a movie about male strippers,” read a friends’ recent Facebook status.

While the world may be ending in December, and the integrity of Ted is questionable at best, I think it’s high time hetero women (and gay men to a lesser extent) turn subjugation on its head and become the voyeurs, and they’re using Magic Mike as a tool to do so.

Never before in mainstream Hollywood film can I recall a movie that so blatantly puts the male body on show for the unashamed consumption by straight women, primarily. Tom Cruise may have been shirtless for the majority of Rock of Ages, and True Blood has as much male eye candy as it does female, but Magic Mike is the first of its kind to feature conventionally attractive and perennially half-naked male actors as strippers: Hollywood’s last taboo, perhaps.

The male form has been sexualised for the last few decades, notably in underwear commercials. Remember Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein’s and David Beckham’s distracting Armani ads? Or how about a shirtless Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid Love, which arguably spawned the current obsession with him that has reached fever pitch? Porn star James Deen is experiencing a cavalcade of female appreciation not normally seen with adult actors. Even pay TV channel LifeStyle You is cashing in on the male body objectification trend, using in their advertisements shirtless men carrying out everyday household duties like ironing to reel the women in. (Because women are who we talk about when we talk about “lifestyle”.)

In the male stripper movie vein, there was that late ’90s UK effort, The Full Monty, which featured a bunch of average Joes getting their kit off at the encouragement of women, demonstrating that men don’t have to look like Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello or Matthew McConaughey for women to find them sexy and to want to see them naked. But there is a certain allure to rippling abs, strong thighs and loaded guns that the comedic stripteases of unemployed steel workers just doesn’t have…

Dodai Stewart writes for Jezebel of the hollering and hooting in the cinema when she went to get her Channing fix, while I noticed more of a silent sexual tension in the air. There was nary a squeal of approval throughout, which lent a certain palpability that watching a sex scene with your parents or a potential love interest might elicit. Tatum’s dance moves succeeded in getting me and—if all the mute leg-crossing, uncrossing and squirming in seats was any indication—all the other red-blooded, presumably straight women in the audience hot under the collar. As Stewart continues, “Could it be that women are so used to seeing the female body sexualised on screen—from the point of view of the male gaze—that we don’t even know how to react to the sexualised male body?”

It seems that the characters who are virgins to the Tampa male stripping scene don’t know how to react either, with Alex Pettyfer’s portrayal of Adam consisting of equal parts disgust at Mike’s occupation and awe at the perks of his lifestyle. Adam’s sister, Brooke (played by Cody Horn), is closed in on by the camera when she first sees Mike dance and a range of emotions cross her face: judgement, arousal, amazement, discomfort at the role reversal male strippers provide. Discomfort and concern are also expressed by the bank clerk when Mike attempts to get a loan, showing up with a down payment in wads of ones and fives. Presumably the teller recognises Mike from the male revue, and offers to sign him up to a program for “distressed” clients, inferring that because he gets his kit off for money, he must be either strapped for cash or lacking self-esteem. Hmm, where have we heard this before? Usually directed at women who trade on their looks and are deemed “at risk”, “battered” and, yes, “distressed” as a result. Mike even has to resort to the ol’ spectacles trope to be taken seriously as he enters the bank, an action most often utilised by hot chicks who want to appear smarter. Speaking of hot chicks, in another play on man as sexual object, Mike’s lover, Joanna (Olivia Munn), tells him she doesn’t want to talk about his feelings: “just look pretty”.

With all the double standards that come with being a male stripper in Magic Mike—female adoration, money, drugs—Caroline Heldman at Sociological Images wonders why this kind of “stripping as fantasy life” attitude would never be seen in media about female stripping: because Magic Mike still panders greatly to male sexuality.

“Make no bones about it, this movie is all about reinforcing the notion that men are in control and men’s sexuality matters more…” Heldman writes. “… [M]any (but not all) of the simulated sex acts the dancers perform in their interactions with female audience members service the male stripper’s pleasure, not hers. Dancers shove women’s faces into their crotch to simulate fellatio, hump women’s faces, perform faux sex from behind without a nod to clitoral stimulation, etc. As a culture, we have deprioritised female sexual pleasure…”

Indeed, there is no full frontal male nudity in the film (does a stunt penis in an enlarging device count?!), however Munn and the actress who plays stripper Ken’s (Matt Bomer) wife have their breasts on show, as well as several other female nude scenes. When it comes to the penis, it would seem that it is the last taboo, not male stripping.

That Tatum’s penis ever so briefly flashed onscreen during a bedroom scene means there’s hope for a full-frontal peen shot yet, with Magic Mike 2 on the horizon. You’ll notice that most of the male stars of the films’ careers have thrived on the comidification of their bodies. McConaughey is more recognisable with his shirt off than on and Manganiello has been quoted as saying he “could care less” about being typecast as a beefcake. I find it kind of refreshing that men are wanting to show off their bodies in a way that has been traditionally reserved for women.

For those who cry “hypocrite” at the women who’re now wolf whistling at the screen, as if all women find the sexualisation of their bodies oppressive, I direct you to one of the core tenents of feminism: choice. If women are deemed autonomous enough to make their own decisions about their bodies and whether they want to use them as a commodity, it stands to reason that men are, too. It might be a hard concept to grasp, but after centuries of the ingrained objectification of women, perhaps men want to try their hand at being desired as opposed to desiring.

While the mainstream media still has a ways to go towards female sexual liberation and the refocusing of the gaze onto men and away from women in a way that benefits all parties and exploits none, Magic Mike is a step in the right direction.

Elsewhere: [TheVine] The Rise of the Hunk.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] On #DailyWife & Writing for the “Women’s Pages”.

[Jezebel] Magic Mike, Junk in the Face & the Female Gaze.

[Sociological Images] Magic Mike: Old Sexism in a New Package.

[The Frisky] 12 Famous Women Who’ve Used Their Sexuality (to Get Ahead).

[Salon] Male Strippers: Please, Just Leave it On.

Image via IMDb.