Stay Hungry (1976)

Stay Hungry (1976)

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

On behalf of a business syndicate, a 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, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Big Business
  • Bob Rafelson Films
  • Cross Class Romance
  • Deep South
  • Ed Begley Jr. Films
  • Jeff Bridges Films
  • Non-Conformists
  • Sally Field Films

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


One thought on “Stay Hungry (1976)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see (and the assessment above reveals a sort-of enthusiasm for the flick that I don’t share…even though I think some of the points mentioned are well-observed).

    Rafelson established a personal style with ‘Five Easy Pieces’ which just happened to work fine for that particular script but (more or less) did not hold up throughout his subsequent work.

    Essentially, ‘Stay Hungry’ is as dull as dishwater. As noted above, the film just plods (and plods) along in such a fashion that we simply *forget* what the hell the plot is; just about everything ceases to matter as a viewing experience, and most viewers simply won’t care.

    Rafelson does manage to establish a convincing, naturalistic atmosphere for the proceedings but the film never gains any kind of necessary momentum (even as a character study – unlike ‘Five Easy Pieces’, thanks largely to Jack Nicholson’s performance).

    It’s kind of amazing that Bridges acquits himself nicely. Even if he’s not exactly famous for his range as an actor, Bridges has one of those personalities that’s usually refreshing to watch – and he has an adaptable quality that can bring conviction to just about any setting he’s placed in. But that still doesn’t help this film.

    Field kept reminding me here of Kristy McNichol. 😉

    There’s a slight bit of ‘fun’ to be had watching some of the supporting cast: R.G. Armstrong, Scatman Crothers, Robert Englund (years before ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’), Helena Kallianiotes (who was so effective in ‘Five Easy Pieces’) and the unfortunately very under-used Fannie Flagg.

    Overall, this somewhat-forgotten film is rather forgettable, even as you’re watching it.

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