While watching a documentary about male strippers, you may not expect to hear the Golden Rule cited—twice. But La Bare isn’t about just any male strippers. The film is a peek at the “Adonises” who work at the titular Dallas hotspot, which is reportedly the top male dance club in the world. It’s the real-life Magic Mike. And it’s directed by Magic Mike’s own Big Dick Richie, first-time helmer Joe Manganiello.
Fans of the unexpected hit that helped zoom Channing Tatum into the A-list stratosphere in 2012 will understand why Manganiello seemingly caught a bug. La Bare is as fun as its fictional counterpart, boosted by removing the overused filmic “based on” tag and offering you a fully true story.
La Bare opened in the 1970s, the result of an experiment to try to revive a struggling nightclub by holding a “best male chest” contest. The bet paid off, at least for a few decades—until, after Sept. 11, as one co-owner puts it, “La Bare went to hell.” By that time, the scene had become a cliché, he says. (“Your mom went to La Bare.”) For reference, think of Chippendales. Or, better, Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze’s Chippendales audition skit on Saturday Night Live.
But then management got serious. They hired Vegas choreographers and sought men who would eat right, work out, and invest those many, many dollar bills into their futures instead of drugs and alcohol. Randy, the “Master Blaster” who’s been dancing for more than 30 years, mentors new guys and tells them that, as independent contractors, “You’re as good as you want to be.” Wesley, the club’s manager, expresses the difference between male and female strip clubs, saying, “Men want to see naked women. Women want the show.” (Let’s just dismiss the thoughts of a dancer named JD, who claims that “there’s no actual skill involved in being a female stripper. You just get some big titties and look decent.”)
More important than the weight machines, dance routines, and cowboy costumes, however, is La Bare’s emphasis on being respectful and gracious to the clientele, focusing on their good time rather than your take-home that night. That’s not to say there isn’t artistry here. From choosing music based on a quick crowd read, to the dancers’ moves, to their laser-beam way of somehow making each customer feel special (and, yes, teased and then some), La Bare’s acts are phenomenally entertaining and impressive, even if a crotch in your face isn’t quite your idea of a good time.
La Bare, at 90 minutes, gets a little draggy as it profiles each dancer in a workmanlike fashion. Manganiello further bungles with the tangential story of a well-liked and highly talented dancer who was murdered, but the sorrow of the tragedy trumps the rookie error. The sadness doesn’t last long, and soon it’s back to the good time, with a segment on the club’s amateur night arguably the most amusing few minutes in the doc. (Imagine Superbad’s McLovin gyrating and awkwardly stripping to his boxers.) Between the fun the men seem to be having and the buckets of cash they haul away, you can’t deny that a career taking your clothes off—in the right environment, of course—has a draw. “When you get out in the real world and you do real work,” the club’s DJ says, “you’re like, ‘This sucks.’”
La Bare opens at the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market on July 4.