Super Size Me
A documentary by Morgan Spurlock. Rating Unavailable.
Much more than just one man's diary of "super-sizing" himself, Morgan Spurlock's rollicking documentary takes a damning bite out of the Fast Food Nation. Super Size Me moves along at the clip of a burger production line, as the filmmaker's monthlong McDonald's binge takes him into America's school cafeterias, academics' offices, gastric-bypass-surgery clinics, and, inevitably, into the heart of Bush's Washington.
The main appeal of the documentary is that it's politically and socially timely; obesity is threatening to overtake tobacco as the U.S.'s number one health threat, and lawsuits against fast-food megacorporations have hit the courts. But the reason it works so well is the personality of Spurlock himself, who's like a Michael Moore without the battering-ram approach or the ego that puts himself at the centre of every frame. Instead, the documentarian is a self-effacing, droll dude who avoids easy polemic. He freely admits to enjoying the taste of his Quarter-Pounders, and he constantly blows off his vegan girlfriend's pleas for him to give up meat after his experiment is over. The fact that his background is in commercials and videos must also contribute to his viewer-friendly, breezy approach.
This is his self-assignment: Spurlock will eat three meals a day at Rotten Ronnie's, sampling everything on the menu, and super-sizing every time he's asked. He'll only clock in a maximum of 5,000 steps per day, to mimic America's average couch potato. He's in top health at the beginning of Super Size Me, and not even his team of experts--a G.P., gastroenterologist, cardiologist, and registered dietitian--can predict what kind of damage his 30-day experiment will wreak on his body. The ever-fearless Spurlock literally and figuratively lets it all hang out, whether he's documenting himself puking up the first Super Size meal he has to choke down (detailing every "McGurgle" and "McTwitch"), having a 2 a.m. freak-out of breathlessness and palpitations, displaying his blubbery new gut, or discussing his quickly fading sex life.
But far from making this one man's wank, he packs his film with information, punching up stats with warped animated bits: watch the Golden Arches pop up over a colourful map of Manhattan to show the 83 sites jammed onto the island; see the stomach-churning cartoon of the production process involving Chicken McNuggets (dubbed "McFrankenstein creations" by one nutrition activist). Your head will spin with such scary facts as these: 60 percent of Americans never exercise, and obesity rates have doubled in the world's fattest country over the past two decades. You will also walk away nauseated enough to make wide detours away from drive-throughs for a long, long time.
Spurlock's exposé comes amid a wave of culture-jamming docs, from Bowling for Columbine to The Corporation. But few have achieved his instant results: McDonald's (which stubbornly refuses to grant Spurlock's interview requests on-screen) will be phasing out its Supersize drinks and fries in the U.S. by the end of this year, presumably due not just to the notoriety created by recent lawsuits but by this movie's high-profile debut at the Sundance Film Festival. Amid the depressing convenience-driven culinary landscape of America, it offers hope that small-documentary makers--even ones with big bellies--still have the power to change the world.