This has been a pretty good week for True Blood beefcake Joe Manganiello. Only a couple of days ago he was voted the hottest bachelor of the year by People Magazine, and today sees the release of his passion project and directorial debut, La Bare. It's a film inspired by what he learned while starring in the surprisingly successful stripper comedy, Magic Mike, in which he played the penis pump-wielding "Big Dick" Richie, and will again in the sequel, Magic Mike XXL. La Bare superficially but enjoyably pulls back the curtain on the realities and gender politics of the male stripping profession, and works as an interesting and funny fact-based companion piece.
La Bare is the Dallas nightclub of some renown, known for their colorful performances and of course ripped, perfectly manicured dancers of various ages, colors, and dreams. Running the show is veteran dancer Randy "Master Blaster" Ricks, a local legend with a perfect physical regiment that has kept him going strong for three decades. And shouldn't he? He can clear $300 in a few minutes on a good day, and he gets to serve as a father figure to the youngsters. Some of the others have less interest in hanging around quite so long, but you won't find their aspirations especially intriguing.
Where the film succeeds is in exploring the gender dynamics of a profession many see as dominated by females. But the guys rightly point out that male customers aren't exactly looking for a show, they just want to see hot women. Ladies, on the other hand, come for the entertainment and invest in their favorite dancers emotionally. These men don't feel objectification, they are instead treated as local heroes and celebrities, and they more than embrace the label. In fact, it seems to drive them further into perfecting their craft, even those who admit to not being able to "dance for shit". The showmanship and body sculpting is what keeps their pants full of cash. Most of the men are respectful to their clientele, but others considerably less so. An extended sequence with the club's promiscuous DJ doesn't do anybody any favors, but Manganiello is quick to show the best in everyone else.
There are plenty of gyrating bodies, chiseled abs, and screaming ladies but Manganiello keeps things simple with an engaging series of interviews that reveal the impact Magic Mike has had on the business. A fresh-faced youngster nicknamed "Channing" was inspired by the film to get into stripping. The mood grows somber for too long as the guys reminisce about a murdered comrade, Reuben "Angelo" Riguero, who they refer to as "the real Magic Mike". The reverence Manganiello has for these men is clear but it also prevents him from treading into the darker territory that a fictional film dared to. La Bare is a crowd-pleasing, skin deep look at those who bare skin for a living, and don't be surprised if Manganiello revisits their world again in the future.