Pain & Gain: Avarice at its best / worst

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Muscles, money, melanoma. What more could you want?

For some reason, Michael Bay decided to make a Fargo-esque movie about a real storyPain & Gain is the “true crime” tale of three mid-90s Miami weightlifters who are too set on absolute success to realize that they’ve fucked up beyond their worst nightmares.

Unlike his film’s narrators, Bay seems to have succeeded.

Maybe he succeeded because there aren’t any giant robots, or maybe it’s because truth is stranger than fiction and this story is already good enough.  Or maybe it was because he got Mark WahlbergDwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie to play his barely clued-in protago-villains (“Don’t worry, I’ve watched a lot of movies,” says Walhberg’s character on the topic of kidnapping, “I know what I’m doing.”), and then convinced Ed Harris and Tony Shalhoub to round out his cast.

I’m not saying that this movie is exceptionally good or a critical success.  I’m saying that it wildly exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations.  The movie flunks the Bechdel test, sidelining the few female characters involved in favor of focusing on a plethora of detestable assholes who feel like they came straight out of a game of Fiasco.  Their fluctuating connection to reality coupled with the greedy entitlement of Wahlberg’s character pulls the movie along like a freight train, complete with ensuing train wreck.  Their musclebound, idiotically-genius antics exemplify the phrase “hot mess.”

More specifics after the break.

This film was described to me as “dripping with 90s Miami.”  I lack the context to tell you whether or not that’s true, but it certainly shows off just how absolutely nuts it is to pursue the extremities of the American Dream, to lust after success and money at any cost.  It makes no bones about showing off the results of obsessive stupidity either; since the movie opens with police coming for Walhberg’s character, you’re never in any doubt as to whether everything is going to go down the drain.  The various characters tag-team as narrator, their voices coming to the fore as the movie follows their story from a closer angle, and it gives you an opportunity to get inside their heads.  Best of all, their thoughts lay open just how unfortunate their compulsive pursuit of cash ends up being, and they make it abundantly clear just how terrible (or simply out-of-touch) most of them are.

As soon as I heard about it, I worried that this movie would simply normalize the horrible behavior and attitudes of the main characters, leaving them as newer, more muscular versions of the “self-made men” Wahlberg’s character is so obsessed with: patriotic, upstanding “self-made” individuals like Scarface‘s Tony Montana or The Godfather‘s Michael Coreleone.  You see the disconnect here.  I imagine that some silly young men will still look at these guys and think “that was awesome,” but for the most part it seems pretty clear that we aren’t intended to look up to any of these guys.  They’re too close to being Apocalypse World characters with their simple driving needs for me to feel like they deserve any better than they get.

Will you like the movie?  Maybe.  It depends on how much 90s Miami you’re willing to put up with.  If you can tolerate watching male privilege and obsession with the appearance of success as they run rampant across the screen before finally crashing and burning, maybe you’ll like this movie.  Well, actually, the male privilege never goes away.  Instead the various male characters just fuck up one too many times.  That said, it’s very satisfying to see the idiots get what’s coming to them.

So maybe you’ll like it and maybe you won’t.  I found it entertaining enough, and with an appropriate sense of schadenfreude I suspect that you may too.

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