Hits Audiences In The Gut
May 14th, 2004
By Louis Wittig : eCureMe Staff Writer
The concept behind "Super Size Me: A Film of Epic Portions", released in
theaters last Friday, is deliciously horrifying. After hearing a McDonald’s
spokesperson say that their food was nutritious, New York filmmaker Morgan Spurlock
decided to test their claim by eating three meals a day, for an entire month,
under the golden arches and taping the experience. Part pop-culture expose,
part gross out flick, "Super Size Me" is a pulpy treat. But when it comes
to leaving the audience with that satisfied, after-meal glow, the movie is
leaner than its title suggests.
So far, audiences are eating it up. In its debut weekend, "Super Size Me"
grossed more per theater than any other film but the special effects thriller "
Van Helsing" according to the Wall Street Journal. The feat is all the more
remarkable for the fact that most documentaries play to small crowds in art house
theaters, and then slip into film history. That "Super Size Me" bucks the
trend reflects Spurlock’s remarkable talent to come across as an honest,
enthusiastic, almost childlike guide. It’s easy to imagine that after a
week’s worth of special sauce, whoever was on camera would become cranky and
condescending towards the topic; but for the full thirty days, Spurlock (who
looks a little like Yosemite Sam, if Yosemite Sam worked out) remains fresh, if
not optimistic, and until the final Quarter Pounder, legitimately enjoys scarfing
The quixotic joyride begins after Spurlock visits a round of doctors, nutritionists
and fitness experts who advise him that, while it’s not a great idea, eating
McDonald’s for a month probably won’t do much more than raise his
cholesterol slightly. Before he binges, he sets some ground rules: he can’t
eat anything that McDonald’s doesn’t serve, he has to eat everything
on the chain’s menu at least once and whenever the counterperson asks him if
he wants to super size his meal, he has to say yes. And then he’s off: almost
half the film’s shots are of Spurlock ordering, eating or laying back and
breathing heavily after having just pounded a fistful of fries. His girlfriend, a
vegan chef, appears periodically to mutter her disapproval.
Between being periodically weighed and having his cholesterol checked, Spurlock
takes the camera off himself and puts it on society-at-large. He visits
elementary school cafeterias where kids eat potato chips for lunch and wash it
down with sugary Gatorade. In the tradition of Michael Moore’s "Roger
& Me" he chases McDonald’s executives for comment. He talks to obese
diabetics as they lay in their hospital bed, waiting for stomach reduction surgery
and he interviews a smorgasbord of dieticians, lawyers, bureaucrats, media
watchers, artists and a California man who, knowing something that neither Spurlock
nor the audience does, eats 700 Big Macs a year and has a healthy cholesterol
level. Everyone, except for the Big Mac enthusiast, agrees that fast food borders
on addictive, and the fast food industry’s never ending ad campaign makes
Ronald McDonald something like a drug dealer.
Whether or not you buy into that perspective, the effect grease grubbing had on
Spurlock by the end of the film is unsettling. Over the month, he consumed 12
pounds of fat and 30 pounds of refined sugar. Having put away roughly twice as
many calories as an average man should in a day, Spurlock gained 24.5 pounds.
His cholesterol, healthy at the outset, went through the roof and his liver became
clogged with fat. When he didn’t get his McMeal on time, Spurlock felt
depressed and had headaches. When he did eat, his sex drive tapered off and he
had a hard time walking up stairs.
Watching Spurlock struggle, both to down 90 fat-saturated meals and figure
out why Americans are such McGluttons, is like taking a roller coaster through
a buffet line. The novelty of the experience is exhilarating, even charming.
But if you’re looking for an explanation to really sink your teeth into,
something that gets to the bottom of this country’s obesity epidemic,
"Super Size Me" will leave you hungry. It all goes by too fast: Spurlock
samples too many topics, images and possibilities in the space of an hour and a
half to really dig into anything.
Contact Louis Wittig at
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