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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

in praise of Rebel Wilson, and how she messes with Michael Bay’s puny mind in Pain and Gain


I really, really, surprisingly really like Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain, but it is in some aspects very much a tediously misogynist Michael Bay film full of tediously misogynist Michael Bay-isms, like anonymous skinny bikini-clad babes shoving their just-barely-covered asses and tits in the camera. And by “anonymous” I mean “headless,” in that the camera frames them as nothing more than conventionally “hot” “sexy” torso-to-crotch bodies, not bothering the viewer with their individual human faces, lest you mistake any of these sex toys for people. You could eliminate all the fetishizing of women’s bodies and it wouldn’t change the film one bit — there isn’t even any suggestion of irony, as there might have been in the hands of a smarter, more self-aware director, in how the idiot protagonists might see it as their right to possess one or many of these walking sex toys, and how their right to the acquisition of such objects is being thwarted because (they think) they’re not filthy stinking rich, a condition they set out to remedy, cue plot shenanigans. No: it’s just Bay being Bay, and being a jerk because he can, because he doesn’t even think he’s being a jerk. It would only be a net gain for the film to just edit it all away and let us pretend that we don’t know that Michael Bay doesn’t seem to recognize that women are people.

And here is how Rebel Wilson totally flummoxes Bay. She has a too-small role in the film as the girlfriend and later wife of one of the idiot protagonists, played by Anthony Mackie. Her part is small, yet she still has more screen time that any of the anonymous sex-toy babes (naturally, because those women are just scenery). But while the camera seems to lick up and down the bodies of the anonymous sex-toy ladies, it bizarrely appears not to know quite what the hell to make of Wilson. I mean, Wilson gets to do some sexy stuff, like make a naughty comment about Mackie’s private bits upon their very first meeting, complete with hilarious-because-it’s-so-confident lip-licking, and later, after their characters are a couple, some funny-sweet-risque bedtime play, but the presentation of it is so totally matter-of-fact. If a camera could be gobsmacked, this is what we see here. (“Fat women like sex? Who knew!”) It’s almost as if, because Wilson is not “hot” and “sexy,” Bay doesn’t know how to fetishize her and reduce her to an object. Wilson is hot and sexy, of course, but she’s the fat sort of hot and sexy, and we know Bay does not think fat women can be hot and sexy or he’d have included some camera-licking of hot sexy fat women in his other films.

It’s almost as if, by virtue of her fatness, Wilson is, in Bay’s mind, removed from the realm of “woman as sex-toy object” and placed back into the realm of woman-as-human-being. Which is, ironically, not at all the usual thing. Fat women are typically completely invisible — either actually, as in most of pop culture, which pretends that any female person over a size 0 doesn’t even exist, or as if that invisibility is fervently to be desired: the rare fat woman actor hardly ever gets to play a role that is size-blind… as — bonus! — Wilson does get here.

I absolutely love that Bay appears to have no idea at all what to do with Rebel Wilson… and, credit to him, didn’t let that stop him casting her. He was forced to treat her as a person, and not an object. Who’da thunk?

posted in:
movie buzz | talent buzz
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