The Bodybuilder and I (Director: Bryan Friedman, Canada, 2007): I was looking forward to this documentary as I have been known to do a few bench presses at the gym. But bodybuilding was simply the backdrop for this very personal journey for a son and father.
Bill Friedman had been a bad husband, a workaholic and an absent father. But after a second divorce and a bout of depression, he quit his job at the law firm, headed to the gym and started pumping iron. In fact, he became a competitive bodybuilder.
Knowing this information from reading the synopsis gave me a bias. I didn’t like Bill. He was obnoxious, gruff and…well, let’s just say I felt for his son, director Bryan Friedman. I took Bryan’s side against an absent father who never had time for his kids, who was only looking out for number one, perhaps someone who didn’t deserve a son.
Yet, at a turning point in the film, when Bryan and Bill discuss the past, I realize that it takes two people to create animosity. Bryan has to let go of his anger. Ah, Bryan, get over it. Stop whining and blaming your dad for your problems.
As father and son journeyed to self-discovery, I journeyed with them. And I think that’s what makes the film very strong. Their feelings come right off the screen. The all-business dad and the woe-is-me son are human. And in between more comedic sections: Bill practicing his routine (for the bodybuilding competition), tanning or trying on his costume, the relationship is starting to develop through the bodybuilding, the sweat and the inevitable tears.
The father/son message comes through: although you can’t make up for lost time, life is too short to hold grudges. Forgive and forget and start anew. And that’s what Bryan and Bill are doing.
UPDATE: The film was awarded Best Canadian Feature Documentary at the Hot Docs Awards ceremony held on April 27. Congratulations to director Bryan Friedman and everyone involved in the film.