Super Size Me

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/25/05 02:43:16

"You know those movies that will change your life? This is one of them."
5 stars (Awesome)

In yet another year where the documentary format is on a roll, it’s no surprise that the two best docs of the year share some common ground. Both Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” want desperately to change your lives. But where Moore depends on the personal politics of the viewer and the willingness to see the film in the first place, Spurlock looks like he may in fact succeed far more than, um, Moore. There’s no partisan bickering to be found after viewing “Super Size Me” - only the conversation with yourself that hey, now’s maybe a good time to cut down on the fries.

The film, for those who haven’t followed the movie’s hype since its successful premiere at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, is an indictment of our overweight nation in general and the fast food industry in particular. Combining journalism, personal commentary, and a bit of showmanship (three factors that also spell “Michael Moore”), Spurlock decided to begin an all-McDonald’s diet. For thirty days, Spurlock would eat nothing but food purchased at the fast food chain - promising to eat everything on the menu at least once, and to only super size his value meals only when asked by the cashier.

As if this were not enough, he also decided to mimic the typical exercise habits of the average American - that is to say, none. No working out at all. Even a pedometer was worn to limit his walking to a minimum. Along the way, numerous doctors and dieticians were enlisted to monitor Suprlock’s health.

Within one week, Spurlock had gained ten pounds. As time went by, the gain loss slowed, only because muscle was being lost, replaced by fat. Cholesterol skyrocketed, as did many other testable levels. Damage was being done to his liver. Doctors were telling him to stop, and fast.

The question, of course, is that hey, nobody eats fast food that much, so surely Spurlock’s findings are exaggerations, right? Yes and no. Research reveals that most of McDonald’s customers eat at the restaurant multiple times per week; combine this with lack of exercise and other poor dietary habits and you’ve got the makings of a major health risk. (Spurlock’s quest began, in fact, as a result of two obese women suing the chain for making them fat. The judge decided they had to prove a McDonald’s diet would cause such serious health troubles. The ladies’ lawyers failed in their attempt; Spurlock did not.)

What makes “Super Size Me” such excellent documentary filmmaking isn’t Spurlock’s digestive adventure, but the side roads he shows us along the way. In between scenes of the filmmaker’s love-hate relationship with his own meals (his very first super sizing causes him to throw up), we investigate: the lousy nutrition found in our schools’ cafeterias; the lengths fast food chains and food companies go in order to promote their wares and protect themselves through government; the weird fact that when it comes to serving sizes, last year’s “large” is this year’s “small;” the American double standard that says it’s alright to harass someone for smoking but not to harass an overweight person for eating unhealthily; the ignorance of a society, many of whom do not even know what a calorie really is (myself included); the pros and cons of “stomach stapling;” the world of McDonalds fanatics; and so much more. Spurlock’s film exposes so much about our culture, all of it remarkable reporting that’s also easy to swallow (no pun intended) thanks to a bitingly funny sense of humor. (Check out the use of “Pusherman” over images of Ronald McDonald.)

The best part about “Super Size Me” is its afterstory. Not long after the movie played at Sundance, McDonald’s announced that it was dropping its Super Size sizes and introducing a line of healthier offerings. Spurlock doesn’t hesitate in putting this fact at the end of his film (even if McDonald’s denies any connection, and even he omits the fact that other chains were following suit, probably due to this film as well), and we see that yes, a good, solid case can bring about change.

And yet Spurlock, while proud of this, probably isn’t as concerned about this as you’d think. My feeling is that he’d rather change the consumers, not the companies. It’s impossible to finish “Super Size Me” without seriously questioning your own eating habits, as Spurlock intended. This is a man who’s not out to take down the big corporations (although it wouldn’t hurt). Instead, he’s looking to inform the public, to push you along a better, healthier road. It’s rare the film that changes someone’s life; “Super Size Me” may indeed change many.

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