There is a moment in George Gallo’s Bigger, recounting the first meeting between fitness guru Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) and a then unknown bodybuilder named Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calum Von Moger), that perfectly encapsulates the experience of watching the film. As the two interact one cannot help but feel distant from what is occurring on-screen. While Hoechlin and Moger capture the mannerism of the iconic characters they portray, we are always aware of the performance of it all rather than getting lost within the story.
Hailed as the fathers of fitness, it is easy to see why the life of Joe and Ben (Aneurin Barnard) Weider would warrant cinematic treatment. Enduring hardship from a young age, the brother’s love of fitness magazines and exercise helped them to get through numerous battles of anti-Semitism and familial conflict. They overcame poverty, and a bitter rivalry with ruthless businessman Bill Hauk (Kevin Durand), to create a successful fitness empire that spanned magazines, gyms, equipment and more.
Told through flashbacks, as an older Joe (Robert Forster) recounts his life to a reporter (DJ Qualls), Bigger hits on many of the biographical beats one would expect. We observe the low points in the Weiders’ career, their perseverance, their interactions with fellow fitness enthusiast Jack Lalanne (Colton Haynes) and Joe’s courtship of his wife Betty (Julianne Hough). In regards to the latter, Gallo does a solid job of making Betty a layered character rather than a vessel to cheer the men on.
However, the film follows the biopic formula so closely that it loses its identity in the process. Bigger lacks the passion needed to make the brother’s plight resonate on an emotional level. It is so concerned with checking off all of the achievements, including creating the Mr. Olympia competition, that it rarely takes a moment to let the gravity of the accomplishments truly sink in. Everything feels rushed to the point where even Joe’s obsession with fitness, including his lack of filter when judging others, and his encounters with Bill feel unintentionally silly.
For men who changed the way the world viewed physical health, Bigger feels surprisingly flabby.