Bigger, Stronger, Faster
Thu, Jul 24, 2008 (midnight)
Christopher Bell may look like your typical meathead jock, but he’s got the outsider gadfly instincts of a Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock in his debut film, Bigger, Stronger, Faster. A documentary about the use of performance-enhancing steroids in America, Bigger is very much cut from the Moore mold of snarky, confrontational filmmaking that puts the director front and center in the narrative. There’s good reason for that, though: Bell himself is a competitive weight-lifter who experimented with steroids in the past, and his two brothers—one a lifter like Bell, the other an aspiring pro wrestler—are still regular steroid users.
The movie starts with the family’s personal story, and Bell wondering why his well-meaning brothers have been turned into criminals by the illegalization of anabolic steroids. He moves from there to create a convincing (but, in the grand Moore/Spurlock tradition, largely one-sided) argument against the vilification of steroids, even while remaining deeply ambivalent about his own brothers’ usage. Sometimes his points come off as rationalizations, but he successfully challenges conventional wisdom on what exactly constitutes “cheating” in sports, and presents a rational libertarian stance on whether the potential dangers of steroids warrant making them illegal.
The semi-sarcastic, “Gee, whadda ya know?” narration borrows not just style but tone and cadence as well from Moore, and Bell also engages in some attention-grabbing stunts that don’t pay off—although his everyman-athlete look clearly grants him a lot more slack than Moore or Spurlock. Watching the director confront the father of a steroid-using teen who committed suicide, questioning the man’s crusade against what he believes killed his son, is painful and unnecessary no matter how right Bell may be.
Eventually the movie’s scope widens to take on too many intriguing but underdeveloped side issues, but it always comes back to the frank and heartbreaking examination of the director’s own family. Bigger, Stronger, Faster may or may not change your opinion of how we should treat steroids in America, but it will at least give you greater sympathy for people who use them, stuck under constant pressure to push themselves to levels they can only truly reach via artificial enhancement.