Deconstructing Character: 4 Ways Magic Mike XXL Gives Characters What They Need
July 14, 2016 \ Movies \ 0 Comments
A character often works better when he or she has something they need. When a movie establishes something a character needs and then allows them to get it by the movie’s end, we cheer with them because we have been a part of the wish fulfillment process. Giving a character something they need is why we cheer when Hadley (Bradley Whitford) finally sees his Mer-Man in Cabin in the Woods, or when Django (Jamie Foxx) kills the Brittle Brothers in Django Unchained, or when Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) kills Count Rugen (Christopher Guest) in The Princess Bride.
This is different than what a character wants, however. Sometimes what a character wants conflicts with what they need (like how Inigo wants to get drunk rather than work towards finding his Father’s killer). Often what a character needs will be in the form of a dream.
In the movie Magic Mike XXL there is particular dedication to giving multiple characters what they need. The movie is about a group five of friends / strippers headed to Myrtle Beach for a stripping convention. Previously the men worked together at the same club in the previous film (Magic Mike) run by Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). However, since then Mike (Channing Tatum) has left the stripping business to pursue his own business as a furniture maker as well as a relationship with Brooke (Cody Horn) and Dallas has abandoned the club and the other guys. With Dallas gone and the guys unemployed, the trip to the stripping convention is meant to be one final stripping ride before moving onto other jobs.
Despite being a movie about male strippers, Magic Mike XXL may be the best example of giving characters something they need I’ve seen in recent memory. Here are four ways in which Magic Mike XXL gives characters what they need.
1. Big Dick Richie’s Quest for The Glass Slipper
Big Dick Richie (Joe Manganiello) probably has the best character arc in terms of establishing what he needs and helping him get it.
Early on in the movie we learn that Richie’s dick is so big that women don’t want to have sex with him. While Richie has no problem attracting women, once they see the size of the penis they’re no longer interested in the deed. Nevertheless, Richie keeps searching for a woman who won’t turn away. Tito (Adam Rodriguez) refers to this as Richie’s quest for “The Glass Slipper.” The subtext of this problem is that Richie is looking for a woman who will accept him for him — a life partner.
This is confirmed later when Mike is trying to convince the guys to abandon their old stripping routines. Mike’s argument is that none of them picked their old routines so they should make something fresh and true to themselves (naturally this conversation occurs when they’re on Molly). And what’s Richie’s idea for his own routine? A wedding. He will pick a girl from the audience, propose to her, have a wedding ceremony with her, then consummate the marriage with her.
So when Richie and the boys are staying at Nancy’s (Andie MacDowell) house and he informs his friends that he did in fact have sex with Nancy, we fist pump right along with his friends because he has found The Glass Slipper and what his character needs.
2. Mike Getting Over his Crushed Dreams
Mike’s needs are a little more tenuous than Richie’s, unfortunately. But I would argue that what Mike needs is mirrored on what he projects on Zoe (Amber Heard).
On the trip to Myrtle Beach, we learn that Mike’s dream has fallen apart. He established his own business, got a house, and proposed to his girlfriend, but she said no. So Mike is on the trip with his friends to help him get over his failed dream.
This is similar to what he tells Zoe, who said she was chasing a photographer to New York city, but finds herself in Savannah. Mike tells her, Look, when shit’s not going your way, getting a little crazy with some random friends has a way of helping you sort out your own shit.” So what Mike is recommending for her, he is actually recommending for himself. As he tells Richie and the guys in the hospital, “I came on this trip with you fucks to just try to get on with it.”
However, it is difficult to say whether Mike achieves what his character needs or not. But if you look at the final scene and see the satisfaction on his face (as well as the tone of the ending) I would say it seems Mike has gotten what he needed.
3. Ken’s, Tito’s, and Tarzan’s Dreams and the Final Performance
While we don’t see Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez), and Tarzan (Kevin Nash) achieve what they need in the movie, what their respective characters need is established and celebrated.
As the movie progresses we learn that Ken is a level three reiki healer (which is someone who heals people’s life force energy), and generally prescribes to the idea of healing people. But it isn’t until he has a conversation with another male entertainer that we learn about what Ken needs.
In a car ride, Ken is telling Andre (Donald Glover) how impressed he is with Andre’s improvisational singing. Ken tells Andre that when he used to sing at Disney World. This betrays a yearning inside Ken we didn’t know about (and thus, what he needs). This is further solidified later on when he sings to a woman to help remind her of how beautiful she is (to heal her).
Tito on the other hand, makes it clear early on in the movie that his dream is to use the ice cream truck to serve his own blends of ice cream. However, he is currently serving snow cones at a mall and claims it is just “market research” until he gets the funds to do what he really wants to do.
Tarzan is the weakest character in the main group. But I think it would be fair to say that while his job is stripping, his passion is painting — that is what he needs.
None of these men achieve what their respective characters need within the span of the film. Instead (to save on time and condense the story) what the film does is have each of the men incorporate what their character needs into their final performance at the convention. Ken sings a song, Tito brings three women into a mock candy shop and applies various toppings to them, and Tarzan brings a woman up and paints her (kind of). So although we don’t get to see each character achieve what they need, their final performances are a celebration of their dreams. It implies to the audience that these men have accepted what they need and by making it a part of their stage performance, they may be a step closer to achieving it.
4. Big Dick Richie’s Convenience Store Dance
From a character standpoint, the best scene in the movie is Big Dick Richie’s dance in the convenience store. It is the gateway the film uses to tap into what each character needs, because it is built entirely on getting Richie (and the other characters) to believe in themselves.
At the start of their journey to the stripping convention, Mike attempts to convince the guys to abandon their old routines because none of them chose that routine for themselves. Mike tells Richie (who does a routine in a fireman outfit) “You’re not a fireman, Richie! You hate fire!”
Richie is hesitant, however, because the fireman routine is safe; the fireman routine is what he knows. Mike’s argument is that they are male entertainers first and that their performances should come from the heart. On a pit stop, Mike points to a convenience store clerk and tells Richie that in order to prove to himself that he is capable of coming up with his own routines (and believing in himself) Richie must go in the convenience store and get the clerk to smile. If Richie fails, Mike agrees to let them all do their old routines. In essence, Mike is making a deal with Richie that gives them all permission to tap into what their characters need as well as permission to believe in themselves and their dreams.
(As a minor, but important aside, when Mike arrives to join the group and someone says, “this is just like when Justin came back to Backstreet.” To which Richie says, “Justin was in NSync. Kevin Richardson came back to Backstreet in 2012. Get your Orlando history straight,” which tells us how much Richie knows and appreciates the Backstreet Boys. And what song comes on when Richie enters the store?)
Notice how invested each guy is in Richie’s dance as they watch from the window. They’re not just cheering for him, they are cheering for themselves, because by Richie proving his value to himself he is also proving to them that they have value too; that they all have something unique to give to the world. That they all can look inside themselves, find what they need, and share it with the world.