In Saul Bellow's novel The Adventures of Augie March, the picaresque hero says of himself: "I touched all sides, and nobody knew where I belonged. I had no good idea of that myself." Craig Blake, the anti-hero of Bob Rafelson's new film (adapted from a novel by Charles Gaines), is a similar character one inclined to experiment with his personality and experiences. Director Rafelson has in the past demonstrated a penchant for psychological profiles of the adaptable individual (Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens). The same quality shows forth in this movie.
Craig Blake lives in his recently deceased parents' mansion outside Birmingham, Alabama. He's in the transitional phase of his life trying to come to terms with himself past, present, and future. The past includes moving in the rich set and being pestered by guilt about his wealth. The present is defined by a job with some wheeler-dealer types who are planning an expensive real-estate deal. Part of his work takes Craig to a downtown health spa he's supposed to purchase. There he meets Joe Santo, an outgoing Austrian body builder, and his athletic girlfriend Mary Tate Farnsworth. She goes for Craig in a big way and leaves Santo to live with him.
About midway through the movie, the story line has a nervous breakdown or, to borrow a term from the body building arena, it becomes muscle-bound. There's plenty of actions a brawl at a formal country club party; a slam-bang fight at a health spa between Thor, the owner, and Craig; and a surreal sequence where the contestants in the Mr. Universe contest rush out into the streets of Birmingham clad only in their briefs. But despite all this movement, the story gets stuck as Craig tries to assess his real feelings towards Joe and Mary Tate. Does he regard them as friends or has he merely used them as two more unusual experiences in his frantic search for authentic people?
Although some of the actors fails to realistically affect a Southern accent, the cast is distinctive. Jeff Bridges is the changing Craig Blake; Sally Field is the peppy and sober Mary Tate Farnsworth (at last transcending her "Flying Nun" image); Arnold Schwarzenegger (a former Mr. World and frequent winner in body building competitions) is Joe Santo; and R.D. Armstrong is Thor. Fine supporting performances are put in by Joanna Cassidy, Roger E. Mosley, Scatman Crothers, Fannie Flagg, Robert Englund, Richard Gilliland, and Helena Kallianiotes.
Bob Rafelson is a director who takes extreme risks with his actor/actresses and his material. Stay Hungry is half successful on both counts. The genuine moments in the film when Craig Black begins to see who he is are worth all the awkward sequences that surround it. It's almost like seeing someone reborn.