Arts & Events

New film Pain and Gain earns its name

Pain and Gain, directed by Michael Bay and starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Mark Wahlberg, is a screwball comedy released April 25. In the understatement of the year, this movie is not for the faint of heart. Given that this may be the only film to look at the underbelly of bodybuilding in South Florida in the 1990s this year, this is simultaneously my favorite and least favorite film on the subject from 2013.

This is a film that is difficult to review succinctly, partially because it bounces all over the map, though mostly because when leaving the theater it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. In many ways, this is a bipolar film, both devoted to telling the odd story of bodybuilders-turned-criminals, while also trying to make the audience laugh.

The movie feels very stylized; with freeze frames, voiceovers and cheeky one-liners, it is unclear what style Bay is trying. The story is told in a linear fashion, so while comprehending the plot is not difficult, the movie is chock-full of scenes that are unnecessary and of questionable quality. Most of what makes this movie so incredible is also what makes it undoubtedly bad: the humor that emerges from substantially dumb characters. Not knowing whether the characters are redeemable people makes it difficult to laugh at their blunders.

The Rock plays a born-again ex-con with a drug problem; Walhberg plays a personal trainer with a desire for self-betterment and an odd penchant for making poor life decisions—both perfect casting choices. Now, neither performance is remarkable, but they put enough vigor into their acting to keep the audience’s attention; it should be noted that neither of these actors are considered to be oozing with talent, so their performances in this film met or even exceeded their averages. No one will mistake this film for high-culture cinema—certainly none of the actors are getting awards for their performances—and given the number of crude jokes, it clearly only panders to a lower-brow audience.

For all of the downsides to this film—which, as discussed previously, are many—it is not entirely bad, with an interesting storytelling style, a potentially upbeat message and possibly the most awesome wardrobe in modern cinema. Peppered with voiceovers from the different characters, the story is told as a narrative providing a certainly unique view.  Almost every scene has an actor saying an inspirational line, repeating an affirmation or vowing to work harder, and despite their failures and blunders, it is not hard to leave the movie feeling motivated.

Now for those of you keeping score at home, this marks the first time. Go see this film if you have time and money to waste, want to have a good laugh at some very dark humor, or you need a movie to put on in the background. Pain and Gain is a “you would be grateful to find on Netflix and resentful of to have paid full price for at the theater” type of movie. This summer is going to be abundant with Hollywood blockbusters, so theater-goers who miss this film will have many other options to catch a fun summertime film.