Super Size Me Review
I imagine that in years to come the premise of Super Size Me will firmly take its place in the annals of film legend, the central idea – that of a healthy, self-effacing and droll Manhattan-ite gorging on McDonalds’s finest for a month – is ingeniously gimmicky in theory and yet endearingly earnest in execution, making a suitable farce out of Michael Moore’s self-aggrandising agit-prop political tracts. Much has been said about this film; indeed the finer plot details have been covered quite comprehensively by fellow reviewers Tiffany Bradford and Matt Day and hence I intend to focus primarily upon the reaction the film intends to elicit and whether it makes good on its intentions and provides a sobering insight into a country that’s populace is progressively transforming itself into a nation of gluttons.
Morgan Spurlock himself perhaps bears closest examination – after all it is he who willingly subjects himself to a dietary regime that turns his formerly lithe physique into a newly paunchy one and puts him at risk to severe health repercussions. Spurlock’s irresponsibly dangerous plight impacts upon us as an audience because Spurlock himself is such an eminently likeable person – genial, witty and remarkably honest. I haven’t yet seen a review that fails to take note of the manner in which Spurlock happily allows the cameras to pry into how the excess of junk food has taken its toll on his domestic life – I find it difficult to envision that many documentary makers would permit the use of footage which involves their girlfriend disclosing that since the dietary shift the quality of their sex life has significantly waned. Indeed, one of Super Size Me’s greatest strengths is that many of the prominently featured people in Spurlock’s life are given the opportunity to be more than merely voice boxes that intermittently spout wearily sermonising little gobbets of wisdom, actually appearing as fully-rounded human beings rather than simply informative talking heads (though there’s still the expected quotient of the latter).
This realism in itself lends the film an unusual intimacy: Spurlock’s girlfriend, Alex (who seems to be one of those ridiculously cute kooks that I mistakenly believed could be found only in American teen movies), is a vegan chef, a career path that seems destined to compel her into unleashing a climactic tirade against her new beau’s self-inflicted overindulgence. Mercifully she abstains from such histrionics, going from treating Spurlock’s experiment with an amused tolerance to a genuinely panicked concern as his health deteriorates. The doctors who assist him are similarly congenial and there’s the refreshing sense that no one here is feigning a performance or creating an appealing façade for the audience. The direction is lively and energetic, concealing the film’s shoestring budget indie origins with some impressively snappy visual tricks that assist in maintaining a pace that both manages to encompass all the points the film aims to raise whilst also, usually, preventing one's interest in the proceedings from slacking. Unfortunately the slightly scattershot arrangement of the film results in a divergent level of quality as we zip from fact to fact, interview to interview and hamburger to hamburger – I for one was less than enthused by the tedious segment involving the stick thin man who’d eaten thousand upon thousand of Big Macs since their release and adamantly refused to eat anything else.
Super Size Me is not simply an aggressive finger pointing indictment of McDonalds and the food that’s served beneath its golden arches: it acknowledges that the relationship between consumer and corporation acts as an inhibitor to easily blaming either party. Yes, McDonalds are culpable for exercising a brutal marketing campaign that targets children and callously exploits them in the name of big business, but the new American ethos of self-satisfied lethargy and their indolently lax management of their health are factors that should be attributed at least a modicum of responsibility.
For once, the region 2 edition proves to actually be preferable to the region 1 version, boasting both an anamorphic transfer and a smattering of ‘UK exclusive’ extra features.
Picture: Not a great deal to say in truth. The film’s minimal budget and shaky handheld camera work don’t make for the most richly detailed of transfers, but the 1.85:1 anamoprhically enhanced picture is satisfactorily clean and clear.
Sound: Again, the stereo audio track is perfectly adequate albeit inevitably uneventful given the film’s subject matter.
Commentary with Morgan Spurlock and Alex Jamieson – Like the majority of audio commentaries this is a mixed bag, but a satisfyingly affable one in which Spurlock and Jamieson offer up a handful of engaging anecdotes and personal insights.
Deleted Scenes – Four quite extensive deleted scenes that were presumably excised from the finished cut of the movie due to their concentration on the rise of obesity rather than the influence McDonalds’s cuisine has had upon it.
Interviews – The 20 minute UK exclusive interview with Spurlock goes over ground that’s already been trodden in the commentary, but it’s still worth a look. Eric Schlosser’s interview also deserves attention despite being a little on the dry side, but the remainder of the disc is largely superfluous – the idea of having to watch more of Don Gorsk was a less than appetizing prospect for me to say the least.
UK Premiere – A compendium of awed comments from those who attended the premiere of the film in the UK (none of those interviewed are remotely famous as far as I can discern), hardly a feature that merits multiple viewings.
Trailers – The expected teasers and theatrical trailers for Super Size Me plus a fair few for other documentaries distributed in the UK by Tartan.
Note: My check disc did not appear to feature “Q&A with the Mclibel Two”, though strangely the trailer for their documentary was included.
Its flaws notwithstanding, this is a solidly compelling documentary – lucid and smart but still slightly shabby in its arrangement, it is obviously of great relevance in our current social climate of dependence on fast-food and disregard for our physical well-being. The fact that we’re treated to a slightly superior disc to our American compatriots certainly doesn’t go amiss either.
Read Matt Day's exclusive interview with writer, director and test subject Morgan Spurlock here.