Pain & Gain (USA, 2013)

pain-and-gain-poster-finalDirected by: Michael Bay. What to say about this movie? I did a “real” review for a respected publication some weeks ago, but I didn’t get a chance to bounce off my little theory that I had for this movie. First, a summary: this is generally a really awful movie—undercooked characters, no emotional core, everyone is an idiotic cartoon, shot with a sickeningly stylized shooting and editing style (the Michael Bay hallmark), full of unnecessarily blatant sexism, unnecessarily juvenile poop jokes, sex jokes, impotence jokes, an overall sensibility of a really shallow, idiotic, sex-crazed, emotionally stunted teenager—but which takes great delight in telling us directly that it’s all a “true story”, which, when you look into it, ought to come with a disclaimer about the fierce resistance this movie has met from the people who actually lived it and the family members of the murder victims. You know—real people got murdered, but hey, it’s just a movie (but it’s a true story, but don’t get upset because it’s just a movie [but it’s a true movie {but it’s a work of fiction <but it’s a true fiction *fuck*>}]). NOW, where it gets interesting is the extent to which all of the above can be read as a deliberate choice from Michael Bay. From the opening 10 minutes, the film wears on its sleeve the blatant theme at work here—the American Dream—and the fact that the film wants us to view the story as an exaggerated cautionary tale for what can go wrong with the American Dream taken “too far.” And, to be fair, it also wears on its sleeve the fact that we’ve seen this a million times before, in movies that are way, way better than this one. Mark Wahlberg’s main character narrates at the beginning (oh, the narration is a LOVELY feature of this film and it doesn’t get annoying and trite at all) about all of his movie heroes he styles himself after: “Scarface, Rocky, those guys from the Godfather.” So, to make a shortcut, this film could totally be read as a critique of the very generation watching it, and perhaps more honestly, the mainstream demographic it’s targeting: shallow, materialistic, greedy, dimwitted, superficial, judgmental, egotistical young people who grew up watching too many movies and TV commercials. And now this overexposure, this saturation in 30-second commercials and an overinflated, overproduced, all style and no substance cultural aesthetic (for lack of a better term), totally devoid of any emotional substance, leaves both the characters in this movie and our contemporary audience unable to register real human emotion, thereby making it possible A) for the characters to so callously exploit, dismember and murder other human beings for short term materialistic gain and B) for the modern audience to somehow develop enough of a recognition with these soulless cartoons to follow them along for over 2 hours, as long as there’s enough chase scenes and bikini-clad porn star lookalikes to keep them distracted. And of course, the era of the events taking place—1995 to 1996—is when the majority of the audience were kids, just becoming conscious of the world around them (some of them just being born). Dare I say it: the world of this film, this distorted, hyperinflated, macho, musclebound, sweaty, all flesh and no soul world is to a certain extent the world as perceived by this generation. I’m aware that this is a gross exaggeration, especially because I myself am a part of that generation (although at the older end of it perhaps). But I’m seeking somehow to account for the blatant badness and poor quality of this film, this film’s inadequacy to fulfill even the most bare minimum of the mainstream Hollywood “contract” between film and audience—a main character to identify with, a goal to follow, a cohesive, nondisruptive narrative, and a resolution, one way or another. This film offers some of that, but subverts and derails itself so much that you can’t take it seriously. What I realize though, is that this generation, where Tarantino and Family Guy are the substrate, don’t seem to mind too much the fact that you can’t take it seriously. You can laugh at something and take it seriously at the same time. An old film prof of mine would have a lot to say on the subject, but that’s not for this blog to do. For now, I’d say this: this film was a pretty fascinating film from a critical standpoint, to watch all of this disjointed shit that I’ve just laid out for you, and I came up with a term to describe it: avant-avant-garde. It’s so incredibly bizarre and subversive with the conventions of mainstream Hollywood that it’s interesting to a critical viewer, but in such horribly bad taste and full of awfully mainstream, idiotic subject matter that it alienates that critical viewer too. Basically, it alienates everyone. Except, the main flaw in that is that the film seems to be doing just fine, and the filled theater at the advance screening I attended seemed unanimously pleased with it. It’s times like this when I miss Roger Ebert.


3 responses to “Pain & Gain (USA, 2013)

  1. Pingback: Getaway (USA, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

  3. Pingback: Bang Bang! (India, 2014) | Offhand Reviews·

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