This One's for the Ladies ★★★

Don’t be fooled by the NC-17 rating; Gene Graham’s “This One’s for the Ladies” may be an uncensored documentary about the male strippers of Newark — and the women who love them — but giant penises have never seemed more gentle or less explicit. Hell, most of the time they’re sheathed in those silly black hoods that exotic dancers have to wear for modesty, and they don’t look like dicks so much as headless church bishops who are hiding some big secrets. This isn’t a smutty movie, or one that’s driven by empty titillation. Made in response to the lack of black representation in the original “Magic Mike,” but endowed with a similar (if more pointed) sensitivity towards economic struggle and collective strength, Graham’s film is drawn to the dingiest rec center in New Jersey because there’s something beautiful about what happens there every Thursday night.

It’s a kind of communal transformation: A multi-purpose space becomes a dance floor, a kitchen becomes a potluck, ex-cons become superheroes, and mothers who are holding their families together by a thread become fangirls. Dollar bills funnel through the air and fall to the floor like confetti, as money is temporarily reclaimed as an expression of joy rather than a symbol of oppression. A jacked dancer who goes by the stage name of “Satan” inspires a youth choir director (alias “C-Pudding”) to shout things like “Take me to hell!” — she almost dies when Satan whips out his fully erect pitchfork. It’s the only moment when Graham’s film really earns the MPAA’s scarlet rating, but you’ll be so happy that C-Pudding gets to experience it.

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