Double Feature: Scenes from the Class Struggle in Florida (Magic Mike & Wild Things)
In these times of ever growing economic anxiety, the class dynamics have become an endlessly probed topic. Whether the conversation is tied to the stigma around certain jobs or how some people manage to survive, the core concept of wondering how we navigate the pre-existing system is ubiquitous. There are characters that lie and steal for scraps; others that hustle and hope for the best. We witness unhappiness from people with all the money in the world and panic from those who are trying to change their position in life. In a nutshell, class struggles in movies do their best to prove that no one’s satisfied with their station, and that everyone will betray anyone to get what they want.
Too real? No such thing nowadays.
Lead Feature: Magic Mike (2012)
I had to double check our site a few times because the fact that I hadn’t written about Magic Mike yet seemed nigh on impossible. It’s one of my favorite movies, and not just because Channing Tatum’s body moves like water and there’s a young ginger dude who shows his butt. My real love for this movie comes from how stunned I was, the first time I saw it, with its complexity on the subject matter. This isn’t just Showgirls with boys, as it’s so often touted–this is a movie that touches on capitalism as a broken system, the taint that comes from engaging in anything remotely resembling sex work, and the persistency of the American entrepreneurial spirit.
Magic Mike follows the story of a male stripper during the summer of 2008, the eponymous Mike, as he works as a roofer by day and a dancer by night in Tampa. His long term goal is to start his own custom furniture business and, from what we see of his work, he’d be pretty good at it. He’s been able to save over $13,000, yet he can’t get a business loan from the bank because of his poor credit score. In one of the snappiest scenes in the movie, Mike flatly tells off a bank worker who says her hands are tied by reminding her that the ones in trouble are financial institutes, not him.
As the summer progresses, Mike begins to realize how easily best laid plans go astray. First his business partner Dallas (Matthew Mcconaughey in all his sleazy, ripped abbed glory) cuts him out of a deal they had made. Then a friend he had taken under his wing (Alex Pettyfer) winds up costing him ten grand. All the enjoyment he had gotten out of a hard partying life is starting to fade. Plus, he can’t shake the stigma of being a male stripper (even though he keeps most of his clothes on and the club has better production values than some professional shows I’ve seen, but whatever). To Mike’s dismay, everyone he thought he had a connection with is able to dismiss him without a second thought.
In a movie that was billed as a fun romp featuring gyrating men (and a sequel that certainly lives up to that claim), some very pressing issues are raised. By the end, Mike walks away from most of what he had invested his life into after realizing there’s no loyalty among the money hungry. Long stretches of the movie feature people talking about how to make money, how to start businesses, or what they do for work. Mike details how he keeps his car in pristine condition so he can sell it for more later; we watch him cram as much hedonistic fun as he can into the moments he has free. His hustle is admirable, but the viewer knows that in the system is stacked against him, created by people with the mindset of profit over people. Mike’s efforts amount to little more than piss in the wind.
Second billed: Wild Things (1998)
A considerably more infamous movie, Wild Things is the trashiest side of greed imaginable. It also happens to feature two of my favorite things: cold hearted women and male nudity. An outrageously twisting story, Wild Things makes sure the viewer doesn’t ever see the full picture until the credits roll. Expositional scenes happen during the credits to show who was the puppet master and who was being pulled along for the ride.
To detail the intricate (and sometimes convoluted plot) of Wild Things would take way too long, so in broad strokes this is a movie about a scheme to get the money out of a rich girl’s trust fund and into the hands of her and her friend. Of course, this being an unabashedly trashy erotic thriller, things have to get a little crazy. The film starts when a well connected and rich student, Kelly Van Ryan (Denise Richards), accuses Sam Lombardo (Matt Dillon), her guidance counselor, of rape. This accusation throws their upper class neighborhood into crisis, along with his life. Another student contacts the police with another claim of rape against Sam, but this time it’s a poor kid named Suzie (Neve Campbell) who’s living in a trailer in a swamp with her alligator wrestling farm owning guardians. Don’t get much more Florida than that, folks.
During the trial, Suzie admits that Sam didn’t do anything wrong, and this was all just a plot dreamed up by Kelly to get back at him for screwing her mom. Kelly’s family is forced to dissolve her trust in order to pay damages to the now cleared but also disgraced counselor. Throughout all this, we get to see the differences between the social classes quite clearly. Sam lives in a perfectly lovely home (described as “shitty” by Kelly) but finds himself up to his eyeballs in debt trying to live a more luxurious life. Meanwhile the palatial mansion of the Van Ryans’ houses only Kelly and her pool-boy screwing mother, the father having committed suicide years back. Then there’s Suzie’s home in the swamp, made up of a collection of trailers and bungalows. Despite their differences, Suzie and Kelly have a genuine concern and appreciation for each other. Though as we find out by the end of the movie, that’s not really enough for Suzie.
Nothing is particularly cut and dry here, Suzie is highly intelligent and motivated but at the end of the day she sees no possible future for herself without money. Kelly is relatively bright, beautiful, and easily manipulated. Sam sometimes comes off as a sleazy opportunist, yet has the most poignant moments of true human fear. He’s clearly insecure about his financials but isn’t the one who pushes this money scheme forward. In some ways, he’s a man who doesn’t really know what he wants, or perhaps wants something that can’t exist. There’s a subtext that Sam wants actual love but feels he needs to maintain a certain plush lifestyle to be worthy of it. When it comes down to brass tax, Suzie is the one with the drive and she’s willing to fake her death and/or kill whomever she need to in order to get what she wants.
Say what you want about capitalism but the economic anxiety it keeps plunging us into sure does birth some great movies.
Thematic similarities: Money, professional stigma, betrayal
Aesthetic similarities: Florida. Just...all of Florida