Magic Mike’s Last Dance opens with a narration that immediately sets it up as a modern fairytale. The narration, from the voice of a politically conscious precocious British teenager (Jemelia George), manages to contextualise dance in its function in early civilization and then proceeds to turn it into a punchline that takes us from the history of dance to Mike Lane’s (Channing Tatum) inability to protect himself from financial woes. As it is, Mike is broke at the start of the film, his business didn’t survive the effects of the pandemic and he’s now working as a bartender for a charity event hosted by a rich socialite with marital problems, Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek).
In less than what feels like five minutes, we get that these two people are in the same boat emotionally – though not economically, as Maxandra is filthy rich – and a sort of indecent proposal (though done in the most charming way as only Hollywood can make it seem) leads to the first of many strip tease dances that the franchise is known for. Channing Tatum is in fine form and Salma Hayek matches every hip thrust from him with an expression that reveals her character’s inner ecstasy. She is transformed and Maxandra has an idea.
She whisks Mike away on the promise of a large amount of money to help her on an endeavor that is personal to her on so many levels. Maxandra is in the midst of a divorce and while the paperwork is being processed, she decides to revolutionize one of the theaters her husband owns, which is under her control by the messy legalities of their prenuptial agreement. The current play is referenced as a traditional (i.e. “boring”) period piece that simplifies the issues of women’s troubles as having to choose between love and money. Bothered by this simple dichotomy of the totality to women’s choices, Maxandra wants Mike to produce, choreograph, and envision a show that can break down this troubling social ill. She wants to produce a strip tease dance show that somehow encapsulates everything that a woman truly desires.
In the process of coming up with the show – naturally, Mike and Maxandra must navigate the complex (or is it) feelings that are stirring up inside of them – but by articulating what the show is about, they have managed to do what the last two Magic Mike movies were not able to do (for me, anyway). The first two installments of the series put the focus on the men’s bodies and what they can do with it. It was about sex and sexiness. It put men and men’s virility and passion at the forefront. What ‘Magic Mike’s Last Dance’ does is flip the perspective and make each dance about the women and what women want. Surprisingly, in this strip tease dances, it’s not about the men but about the fantasy of women: about how women want more than just what society has given them to choose from.
I never really understood the appeal of these kinds of shows (and that’s funny as I’m a gay man, so I understood it in my head but it never really hit me in that same way) but because of this movie, I finally understood the appeal. There are lines of dialogue that remark about how something like this can be a sort of expression for female freedom and liberty and at first I thought it was a stretch and then, as Hannah, the actress in the original play who manages to score a role in the new show (and is played with such verve and vibrancy by Juliette Motamed), plays a sort of Master of Ceremonies articulates and contextualise each number, the show goes beyond the cheap thrills of men’s bodies and gyrating movements but manages to touch upon something even more profound: what women really want.
And with that as the focus of the film, the whole movie hinges on Salma Hayek’s performance and not Channing Tatum’s. Because if this show is about freeing women from the oppressive social constructs the patriarchy has put upon them, then her character is the symbol of this. Hayek manages a rhythm to Maxandra as she jumps back and forth from moments of hysteria to a fierce and confrontational mode. She’s funny but she’s not playing for laughs. Instead, she’s playing a woman untethered by her situation: a rich woman who has all the money in the world but is powerless in her marriage and her social standing. She feels trapped by the things that make her “powerful” in appearance and she wants freedom but it could cost her everything. Salma Hayek taps into this in such a primal way that her work is astounding without being a caricature. It’s unhinged but it feels honest.
Tatum, on the other hand, is in a comfortable space. He’s done amazingly well as the regular joe and he breezes through this character effortlessly. Standing out alongside the two leads is Juliette Motamed, who easily can take the spotlight in her every scene, and the precocious narrator of the story, Jemelia George, who is revealed to be Maxandra’s daughter.
At its core, this is a love story and, at first, it’s metaphorical: it’s the show the leads are producing, but later it becomes literal but it needs to be mediated and it is done through the dancing. And there’s a lot of it. What Steven Soderbergh does is connect the love story, the need for women’s freedom from societal restraints to dancing, and how dancing communicates this and embodies this. Yes, the last 30 minutes of the movie is one big dance number but each movement, and every choreography has been articulated and contextualised by the film’s narrative that it is part of the story.
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy myself in this movie but I did so, and by a whole lot.
Magic Mike’s Last Dance is now showing in cinemas nationwide. Buy your tickets here.