The first movie was very much split down the middle in a lot of ways, like it was two different movies welded together in a way that didn't quite fit. This movie is about taking the side of that movie that was more enjoyable (hint: it involved dancing boys) and throwing itself headfirst into that.
The first movie was so sad, so full of sleeze and misery, and this movie is so joyful. You can see how they're connected, but you can also see how the filmmakers decided to pivot for this one. And I think ultimately, they pivoted towards talking about women, which is odd in a movie where most of the characters are men. Here, women are allowed to have voices. In the first movie, there was Mike's love interest, who remained the only female character with a voice and personality. The women who existed in the crowd scenes only expressed their interests and voices by throwing dollar bills and occasionally were dragged onstage to be dry-humped. They're still dragged onstage and dry-humped, but now they're asked about what they want, who they are. Mostly, anyway.
The scene with Andie McDowell looked so cringeworthy in the trailers, an older woman who needs to taught how to get her groove back with a bunch of strippers, but it's played so much smarter. She's so active and present and in control of it.
But there's definitely an oddness to the movie and the way it treats female pleasure. M mentioned that it's a fantasy universe in which rape doesn't exist, and I think that's the simplest way of describing the confusing contradictions at the center of the movie's attitudes towards sex and gender. I think Tasha Robinson's essay on the movie's take on female pleasure expands on that idea really well.
Still, though. This is a movie about the joy of entertaining, of making people feel good through your art. I've never been much of a live performer, but I know the little hit I get when someone comments on my fic with smiley-faces. So that felt very real and happy-making to me.
(Also, on a shallow note, I'm really glad they got Twitch to join the crew as probably the only other person on the cast who can match Tatum as a dancer. And hoo boy, did they look good dancing together.)
Other takes on this movie that I have enjoyed:
Film Crit Hulk's complete adoration for it
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