Reg Park is a legendary English bodybuilder who won Mr Universe several times and inspired Arnold Schwarzenegger to greatness. Schwarzenegger speaks of Reg’s influence and mentorship in his autobiography, ‘Total Recall’. At one point, years before he was “The Terminator”, he traveled to Johannesburg to meet Park at his gym. The Hollywood action man and icon was also inspired by Joe Weider, a fitness fanatic and magazine publisher, taking some of their passion and business acumen into his own ventures. While inspired by Reg, Joe launched the young Austrian into the stratosphere by splashing him across his magazines and inspiring Schwarzenegger to go Bigger.
The American dream and pursuit of happiness is a popular film narrative, which forms the basis for Bigger. While the biographical drama is built around Joe and Ben Weider’s triumph over poverty and prejudice in their bid to establish a fitness empire, it’s really all about Joe’s greatest hits with the equally amazing Ben playing second fiddle. Bigger tells the story of a man from an immigrant family whose self-determination and commitment to health shaped the landscape of bodybuilding and fitness publications as we know it. Discovering Schwarzenegger, who writes extensively about Weider in his autobiography, their stories parallel as both launched their careers in the United States through discipline, determination and raw talent.
Bigger is directed by George Gallo and stars Tyler Hoechlin, Julianne Hough and Kevin Durand with Calum Von Moger as Schwarzenegger. Hoechlin goes full tilt with the accent and must’ve trained hard in the gym but isn’t there for his likeness like Von Moger. In fact, he probably looks more like Superman than the real Weider, which probably wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if his performance wasn’t so flat-footed. Being primarily event-based rather than character-driven, this isn’t as much of a problem as you’d imagine with Robert Forster filling in for the Joe in later life.
“Do you think I’m sexy?”
Julianne Hough has been bubbling under since Rock of Ages and is perfect as blonde bombshell, Betty Brosmer. While the characters aren’t dealing with much, they ramp things up in a few scenes in an attempt to add substance. Unfortunately, Weider’s future-orientation isn’t explored further than him not being able to offer details from his past. Focusing on office interactions, press junkets and bodybuilding competitions and covering a wide expanse of his life in 90 minutes, there isn’t much time for this kind of depth. Durand throws his weight around as unscrupulous and bigoted rival Bill Hauk, but otherwise is all pretty lightweight.
It’s essentially a chronicle of Weider’s extraordinary story told by way of flashback. An interesting character whose difficult childhood turned him into a real fighter, he became obsessed with the human form making it his mission to get people to peak physical condition in order to improve their lives. Glorifying the human body, creating a lifestyle brand around his revolutionary products and information, he built an empire around himself in spite of his tough upbringing and anti-Semitic opposition. It’s difficult not to get behind his story and root for the guy.
While respectable, entertaining and covering a wide expanse of Weider’s legacy, Bigger does come across as a fairly superficial tribute. The American Dream story is well-worn and while an amazing entrepreneur the drama is more procedural than impassioned. Checking story milestones rather then immersing us in the thoughts behind the deeds, it feels a lot like the glossy magazine covers he pedaled. Bigger‘s a handsomely mounted and powerful story with some timely themes, but does come across as a professional rather than passion-led project. The production values, powerful themes and good pacing go a long way to distracting you from the thin screenplay but its bland disposition does weigh it down. It’s not a good biopic but the rags-to-riches story’s power, human interest and spirit compel it enough to remain mildly entertaining.
The bottom line: Acceptable