George Gallo’s fascinating production, Bigger, is a biopic that explores the subject through the tireless efforts and beliefs of two Canadian-born Jewish brothers, Joe (Tyler Hoechin) and Ben Weider (Aneurin Barnard), who were the architects in the development of the body-conscious philosophy and nascent bodybuilding industry.
Against overwhelming odds in the 50s, these bright, innovative young men launched an empire and along the way discovered a muscle-bound Austrian teenager with a funny accent and even stranger surname named Arnold Schwarzenegger. During buoyant and diverse career paths, the men also inspired female empowerment, championed diversity, and started a movement that changed the world of bodybuilding in the United States.
Joe was born in 1919 in Montreal to the irritation of his mother who wanted a girl. Ben is his younger brother and as children, the two were held spellbound by the antics of circus strongmen. Obsessed with the cultivation of physical perfection, Joe spent hours drawing an ideal Adonis.
He concocted exercise routines and studied diet, and put his findings in a fanzine that expanded into a genuine mainstream magazine. He was frequently met with anti-Semitism both casual and pressing, and when he and Ben got into the main-stream of what in the ‘30s and ‘40s was still a very small culture, they made a lifelong enemy of Bill Hauk (Kevin Durand) a fictional character.
Hauk was a nasty, manipulative bodybuilding contest promoter and publisher who was a loud-mouth bigot given to violence. The movie plots the struggling early years of the brothers and their dream to raise themselves out of poverty and make something of themselves. In the process, they helped shape a movement that fermented a change in thinking about fitness and health and the training one’s body to reach the peak of perfection.
They were instrumental in creating the Mr Universe bodybuilding competition in which Schwarzenegger made his name. Interestingly enough, the muscular actor who plays Arnie bears an uncanny resemblance to the former California Governor, complete with credible accent, and is a real-life muscleman, Calum Von Moger. Famous South African body-builder, the late Reg Park, who influenced and mentored Schwarzenegger, is mentioned in the film.
Park, who is credited with having been instrumental in Schwarzenegger’s passion for bodybuilding, launched his own bodybuilding industry in South Africa. He opened his gym to all during the height of apartheid and took the first black body-builder to compete in the Mr Uni-verse contest. Attractive blonde dancer-turned-actress Julianne Hough plays Joe’s fitness model wife, Betty, who gave him the inspiration to succeed. She supported her aggressively ambitious husband as he did the wheeling-and-dealing to claw his way to the top.
Commanding performances from the leaders, especially the square-jawed Tyler Hoechin as Joe, the central figure, in the drama. Steve Guttenberg, a name from the past, plays Joe’s father, Louis, and Tom Arnold is cast as a noted New York magazine publisher, Roy Hawkins