Welcome to the world of male strippers, says actor Joe Manganiello’s documentary La Bare. It’s not exactly as exorbitant or excessive as Magic Mike (in which Manganiello played a stripper called Big Dick Richie), a point which La Bare wastes no time in emphasizing. No sex, no drugs, no excessive partying – these fellas are in it for the money and, as one stripper points out, the attention.
For 90 minutes, we peek into the lives of several dancers at La Bare in Dallas, Texas. Ranging from the young newbies to Randy “The Master Blaster” Ricks, the elder statesman and odd sort of “den father” to the crew of strippers, they all have their stories to tell. It’s never a dull moment with these guys, as you see them ready their hard bodies for their routines, pop in at bachelorette parties, or tell you about the crazy world of male stripping.
You don’t hear much about this side of the business, when it seems every other movie has a scene or two at a club with female dancers. But Manganiello’s camera finds them naturally goofy, enjoying themselves, and proud of their work. Having discovered this place as part of his research for his Magic Mike role, Manganiello pulls back the literal curtain on the illusion these boys are so great at creating.
And it *is* an illusion. To the women who populate the club and the world outside its doors, these boys are the epitome of bodily perfection. As one patron puts it, they’re there when she needs them – she sees them as her friends that she needs after a bad day. But what a lot of them don’t see are the families the men are raising, the struggle to keep fit and appear young (one turning to Botox injections and cryogenic freezing), and the striking gentility which Ricks imparts onto his young charges.
Eventually, as all documentaries of this ilk must, the subject turns grim with catastrophe, draining the fun out of the hour that’s come before. The remaining half-hour tribute to a fallen comrade makes little sense of the tragedy that befell the La Bare family and seems to be the only sordid occurrence in a film where you’d expect sordid to be coming out of your nose. This sudden turn of events is probably meant to jar us as much as it did to the folks who experienced it in real life, and that’s to be appreciated.
La Bare is full of surprises like that. The folks that you expect to be having so much sex actually aren’t, and the running theme of respect – toward each other, toward the patrons, toward fitness, toward family – clashes with a lot of perceptions concerning this business. Manganiello’s La Bare is a definite weapon capable of striking down a lot of those preconceived notions, and done with a mostly lighthearted tone. La Bare isn’t shocking and it doesn’t reinvent the wheel; however, it is a relative sea of good will and peace in an otherwise frantic and sensationalized business.