Stay Hungry (1976)

“Don’t you think you’re taking this attraction of yours to other types of people too far?”

Synopsis:
On behalf of a business syndicate, wealthy southerner Jeff Bridges visits a local gym and tries to persuade its owner (R.G. Armstrong) to sell. Meanwhile, he finds himself attracted to a petite gym employee (Sally Field), and fascinated by the lifestyle of muscleman Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Genres:

Review:
Bob Rafelson’s comedic follow-up to The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) is, in a word, quirky. More concerned with unusual characters and settings than plot, the story meanders along at a leisurely pace until, just like Jeff Bridges’ character, we forget what our original goal (in watching) was, and instead simply allow ourselves to enjoy each scene as it comes. Indeed, Stay Hungry is full of countless strange and humorous moments (see “Redeeming Qualities and Moments” below) — and when things devolve into hectic slapstick by the end of the film, we accept this, simply because it’s in keeping with the movie’s general tone of irreverence.

Unfortunately, there are a few needlessly uncomfortable moments in the film: an African-American gym employee (Roger E. Mosley) commits actions which are meant to be funny, but instead stereotype him in an offensive way; and the gym’s owner (a buffoonish R.G. Armstrong, wearing a hideous toupee) turns inexplicably violent at the end. However, these detractions are more than redeemed by the film’s strengths: a refreshingly subtle commentary on class relations in the “new south”; (mostly) likable characters; a sweet, believable romance between Bridges and Field; and an overall aura of infectious eccentricity.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jeff Bridges as the wealthy nonconformist who undergoes a major change of heart
    Bridges
  • Sally Field — looking all of twelve years old — as Bridges’ spunky new love interest
    Sally Field
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger’s slightly stilted yet sympathetic performance as the sensitive “Mr. Olympia”
    Schwarzenegger
  • Kathleen Miller asking Schwarzenegger about the “romantic leanings” of musclemen
    Miller
  • Bridges dancing with refreshing abandon in the midst of a group of fiddlers
    Dancing
  • Bridges stealing a gaudy painting from a bank simply to impress Field
    Painting
  • Some truly bizarre imagery of body builders roaming the streets of Birmingham
    Streets
  • A frank look at class relations in “the new South”
    South

Must See?
No, but it’s worth checking out once. Peary lists it in the back of his book as a Cult Movie (and it still has many fans).

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