Two dykes walked into a cinema and saw Magic Mike’s Last Dance. Don’t worry, this is not the beginning of a very hacky joke! This is a moment for Drew and I to discuss a movie that we both saw and loved, despite it being about straight people! Truly, our bravery knows no bounds! The final (?) movie of the Magic Mike Universe (the MMU, if you will) dropped in theaters on February 10, and while reviews have been mostly mixed, Drew and I really liked it! And what better place to banter about our enjoyment of this movie than the very fine pages of Autostraddle?
Magic Mike’s Last Dance picks up after a business deal left our favorite male entertainer slash furniture maker, in need of cash and bartending to make ends meet. He meets Maxandra Mendoza, a newly divorced, very wealthy socialite who whisks Mike off to London for a new opportunity, and perhaps…some romance. Drew and I get into it all below, and spoilers are abound, so consider that your warning! Let’s dance!
Drew: I think we should start with the first two films. When did you see them? What were your feelings?
Christina: I did not see the first film in theaters. I vaguely remember the marketing campaign and thinking that it was fine but not quite my speed? And mostly I was at college and probably the least plugged into any cultural goings on I’ve ever been. I saw it a few years later, in prep for XXL and thought it was interesting and darker than I assumed, but it didn’t grab me too much either way? Then XXL came on the scene and well….it changed me.
Drew: Yeah XXL is… its own very special thing.
Christina: I imagine you were prepped and ready for the first, filmé nerd you are?
Drew: I did see both movies in theatres, which is funny because I was identifying as a straight boy when they both came out. But I had Soderbergh as an excuse. I saw the first one with my sister at a theatre in Calabasas with a bunch of rich moms and a handful of reluctant husbands. My sister was like, “I can’t believe I saw this with my brother.” And I fought the closeted trans girl pangs by being like, “Why? It’s Soderbergh! It’s about the economy! It’s supposed to be paired with The Girlfriend Experience!”
By the time XXL came out I was less eager to make excuses. I saw it with a friend in New York and she was confused why I was so obsessed with it, but honestly?? It’s just a masterpiece. And in my last years of trying to figure out the whole masculinity thing, it was really lovely to see a movie that was such a celebration of a non-toxic masculinity. I actually think it was kind of key in helping me realize like ohhh it’s not the toxicity of masculinity that doesn’t fit with me, it’s masculinity in general. But I loved watching it! And I did rewatch it a few months later with my new girlfriend at the time as a means of foreplay.
Christina: I was absolutely ready to rock for XXL, and honestly, seeing it in theaters was truly a gift unto itself. And I think I had a similar feeling — like I loved watching those big dummies talk to each other and express feelings and work on their arts and crafts together — but it also felt so clearly Not About Me™? In a way that was almost thrilling, somehow?
Drew: Yes! Like okay, I’m not a man, but this is how men could (should?) be.
Christina: Should! And I saw it pretty soon after officially coming out, so a large part of it was also feeling free of the expectation to desire these men?
Drew: There’s something kind of special about watching sexuality and sensuality without it being about you in any way. Just like good for these guys! Good for these women with these guys!
Christina: That being said, if Big Dick Richie were to come my way….well I’m not THAT gay.
Drew: That’s Mike for me. I love Channing Tatum.
Something worth noting is XXL got worse reviews than the first one. I’ve been thinking about that a lot with the response to Last Dance. Of course it had its defenders from the jump — most notably Roxane Gay’s perfect piece in The Toast — but I think it was dismissed and only over time has it garnered the praise it deserves. Part of this is film culture’s general dismissal of fun; another part is general culture’s dismissal of any sort of sex work. And I also think it just has such different goals than the first one. And, once again, Last Dance has such different goals than XXL.
Christina: I can always tell if a person is going to annoy me if they cite Magic Mike as important cinema but dismiss XXL as fodder.
Drew: I think both XXL and Last Dance are important and artful in the way that Old Hollywood musicals were important and artful. They’re bursting with joy, but they’re also really well-made, have strong characters, and are actually pretty deep if you don’t dismiss them for being fun.
Christina: Let’s get into Last Dance, shall we? I know I went in with tempered expectations. The reviews (tweets) I had seen beforehand were closer to “mehwp_poststhan anything else. That helped me meet it where it was. I think the less pressure you put on something, the better? How bout you? I sent you a voice memo after I saw it and tried to give you the gift of adjusted expectations without spoiling, did it work?
Drew: Yeah, I shot a short film the weekend it came out so even though I unironically consider XXL to be one of my fifty favorite movies of all time, I couldn’t see it for a few days. And I’m actually really happy about that. I don’t think I needed my expectations lowered as much as they were, but it did help to have them shifted in regards to what I was getting. Mainly that it was a romcom of sorts between Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek and that the boys were barely going to be in it — and not in a double entendre appearing bare sort of way.
I get going into the movie wanting another joyous celebration of positive masculinity and being disappointed. But as you said in that voice memo, we already have XXL. I don’t want a safe sequel that’s just XXL but a little worse. I love that Last Dance is another fresh pivot.
Christina: I agree! I’ve talked to a shocking number of people who truly just wanted another movie with the buds. Part of me gets that—and I think it has more to do with the portrayal of masculinity in XXL and how rare it is. (I was thrilled to see the boys in their Zoom cameo, and even more thrilled that Soderbergh got the glitchy Zoom vibes down.) Of course we want to see more of these kinds of portrayals of masculinity in culture but I don’t need this trilogy to be only that story. And as a trilogy this just makes sense! You find your passion, your friends, and then love! Tidy and gorgeous!
Drew: Yes! Also Soderbergh is back in the director’s chair, and you see a lot of his interests from the first film coming back to this one. Mainly, that the first film and Last Dance are both about economics above anything else. The original was very squarely based in the market crash, and this one is based in Covid-era economic strife. And here it’s very much about the economics of being an artist. It’s difficult for me not to read some autobiography here for Soderbergh — especially since Mike’s real passion is making furniture but his marketable talents are in dance. It’s like Soderbergh saying I want to make Che Part 1 and 2, but I guess my greatest talents lie in creating movies where a bunch of guys team up to steal stuff or these little dance films.
Christina: This reminds me of the gorgeous difference in our Letterboxd reviews for this film. Mine was like “romance novels for boys are goodwp_postsand yours was like “the struggling economic realities of being an artist are impossible to navigate.wp_postsAnd look, I think we’re both right! But I loved that we both zeroed in on the themes that we are interested in.
Drew: I think what I love most about these movies is we really are both right. It’s what I love about a lot of my favorite movies! I just fundamentally don’t believe thematic depth is only possible in self-serious work. All art is saying something whether consciously or unconsciously. And, in this case, it feels very conscious and very clear to me. I love that we get that within a romance novel.
And can we get to that romance? Because I’m surprised people haven’t loved this movie for rich Salma Hayek alone.
Like I’m sorry I guess a chaotic explosion of Salma Hayek who is buying Channing Tatum as her little pet isn’t interesting to you?? Couldn’t be me.
Christina: Look. Look. Obviously I was genetically created to be in love with Salma Hayek Pinault in this movie. This is not a surprise! But I have to say, I feel like she is being disrespected in some of these reviews, because she’s what? Over the top and dramatic? First of all, that is fun to watch, and second, we don’t see a lot of women who are like that in movies? Especially not older women, and especially not women of color! I loved that she is prone to temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way! I love that she’s so afraid of failure that she can’t even make herself finish a project she cares about! I love that this movie proved that Channing’s previous relationship with Jada Pinkett Smith was more important than any of the mediocre blondes he was paired with in the movies!
Drew: Okay yes! Definitely the critique that has confused me most is that the characterization isn’t as strong here as the first film. First of all, Salma Hayek could read a cereal box and have deeper characterization than Alex Pettyfer reading Shakespeare. Second of all, I felt like Maxandra was really well-developed? Sure, she’s an archetype. But she’s an archetype done well. I really felt her struggle between the energy and individuality bursting out of her and her reluctance to let go of her newfound wealth. I mean, it’s literally the conflict in the play within the performance within the movie. But Salma Hayek is a great actor and she sold me on the human reality of that classic story.
Christina: I feel like, just because a character is eccentric or maybe even kind of annoying, that doesn’t mean they are not well characterized? And of course it’s kind of silly they are like in love after a month but hellooooo have we seen a rom com ever?
Plus their chemistry was….
Drew: Great chemistry can accomplish so much! I would love for Hollywood to remember that!
I also liked that throughout most of the movie I really wasn’t sure how Mike felt about Maxandra. It did feel very transactional for him even if Salma Hayek is Salma Hayek. But by the end I bought them being in love and I liked how it could only happen once she was willing to give away her money. I think it’s playing with their power dynamic — and the layers and nuances of their power dynamic — in such an interesting way!
Christina: I will forgive so many sins for good chemistry! Not just sexual chemistry, you gotta seem like you like one another! And that’s interesting! I felt like he was in from jump — he was pushing to get to know her better in ways she wasn’t, and of course he clearlyyyy wanted to fuck again. It felt like she was the one who wanted to keep those walls up, picking fights about the show and making out in the car after dinner. I read her unwillingness to let him in as transactional — until the money was gone, and then she could let herself have what she wanted.
Drew: I think it’s that he’s so attentive toward her, even in the way he pushes her to open up, and it felt similar to how he is on-stage with a woman. But I guess that’s kind of the appeal and fantasy of Mike as a character! He’s so good at what he does because of the dancing but also because he naturally loves women and loves to listen to women and loves to connect genuinely with women.
This was the first time I felt the movie playing with that though. Maxandra also definitely had her own walls up, but I did like the way the movie felt more consciously getting into the stickiness of like what is Mike doing as part of his job and what is Mike doing because he’s genuinely interested in this woman.
I mean, he has sex with her during that initial dance, so from the beginning it’s muddled.
Everyone at least seems to agree that initial dance is perfect and everyone is right.
Christina: It is truly one of the most arresting things I have ever seen in my life????
Drew: At a time when movies have become so sex-less, it really is such a joy to get turned on at the cinema!
Christina: A gift even!
And you know, it’s not like I think the movie is flawless? I don’t want to overcorrect and be like “a perfect film!wp_postsbecause it is not that.
I certainly would have simply cut the daughter
Drew: The narrator??
Christina: Yes I am bravely taking an anti voice over narration stand here in 2023
But no you’re right. I loved the movie, but certainly not as much as I love XXL if we’re comparing. I do think Last Dance explores some of the economic things of the first film while not forgetting to be fun. XXL was perfect and its own thing. This feels like it’s improving on the original.
And yes, it’s an ad for the live show in a big way. Not to keep talking about economics but it feels kind of meta that it’s ultimately an ad?? That’s my justification. Doctoral thesis coming soon.
Christina: I did have a friend confirm the final performance is basically verbatim the live show, so do with that what you must.
Drew: I haven’t even seen the live show yet. I’ve just watched the incredible HBO Max series Finding Magic Mike about the live show.
Christina: And I do think that it would have been nice to get to know the new boys a little bit — like they straight up do not speak.
Drew: Yeah, maybe if the daughter wasn’t around, we could’ve had some new boy subplots.
Though honestly my only problem with the daughter storyline was the bit about not letting her see the whole show! Let the kid see the hot men dance! It’s not that graphic, she’ll be fine!
I’m going to take a bold stance and say: Everyone twelve and up should be allowed to watch any of the Magic Mikes. In fact, it would change our society for the better.
Christina: I fully agree, we are doing youth no favors by acting like bodies and desire are something to feel shame about.
Drew: And that’s why these films (this franchise?) is so great! I know this is called Last Dance but I hope we get more.
Christina: Well that’s why we have to call Steve and Channing up and pitch our heist movie
Drew: Yes! A Magic Mike heist movie! Because these movies are about money!!!
Christina: Everything is rent.