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Sundance 2008: “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*.”

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"I think steroids are as American as apple pie."
Christopher Bell’s documentary "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" caught us completely by surprise. Subtitled "The Side Effects of Being American," it begins as a semi-personal doc about steroid use amongst the heroes of sports and screen and within Bell’s own weightlifting Poughkeepsie family. It looks to be all in the Michael Moore mold, with its everyman narrator/director and small-scale framing of a large-scale examination — the film even has its own Roger Smith in the form of California governator Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Bell has genuine inquiry on his mind, and one gets the feeling he wasn’t sure where the film would end when he began it — he’s not even convinced that steroids are any worse for you than the average supplement or prescription drug, and gets some solid testimony to support that view. What does trouble him are the ethical questions behind performance enhancing drugs, as well as — and this is where "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" heads way beyond the bounds of the average outrage doc — what Bell sees as symptomatic problems with the conflicting ideals of Americanism represented by steroid use, namely that our desire to do the right thing comes in direct contention with our drive to be the best. A melange of investigative work, interviews, home video, news pieces and clips from the oeuvres of the bulgy 80s trinity of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan, "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" very much needs a tighter edit and better structure, but it’s entertaining, funny as hell and disarmingly self-effacing. Bell doesn’t showboat or fake ignorance, and so gets unassumingly honest answers out of many of his interviewees, like fitness model Christian Boeving, who essentially shrugs that it’s the foolishness of consumers that leads them to believe his physique is really due to the supplements for whose ads he poses.

But it’s the footage of Bell’s family that becomes the most difficult to watch and that finally makes the film worthwhile. Bell is one of three brothers chasing dreams of pro wrestling and weightlifting, and he’s the only one not using steroids. Their parents are aware of what their sons have been up to, but avoid confronting the issue. In a series of interviews that, thankfully, seem to originate too much from personal concern to seem exploitative, Bell gets wrenching moments with his mother, with his older brother, who’s consumed with self loathing that he hasn’t achieved the greatness (for him, WWE stardom) for which he feels he’s meant, and with his younger brother, who coaches football and tells his students they don’t need steroids, while remaining bluffly unapologetic about being on them to adults. These segments are painful and revealing, and do justify Bell’s rather wide-ranging voiceover musings, capping off a doc more ambitious than it first appears.

+ "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" (Sundance)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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