Super Size Me Review
Imagine having to eat all of your daily meals at a McDonald's restaurant for thirty days, ordering everything on their menu at least once and having it super sized if the cashier asks you. Would you do it? Morgan Spurlock did, to illustrate the damaging effects fast foods have on our bodies and it damn near killed him.
Combining reality show gimmickry with a legitimate public service announcement, Super Size Me is Morgan Spurlock's hilarious and thought-provoking indictment of the fast food industry and their role in America's staggering obesity epidemic. Spurlock came up with the idea on Thanksgiving 2002 while watching a news programme about two teenage girls who were suing McDonald's for their obesity (the second leading cause of preventable death behind smoking). The girls had to prove that McDonald's intention was for them to eat all their meals there and that eating those meals was detrimental to their health. Intrigued, Spurlock wanted to see firsthand what would happen to his own health if he ate exclusively at McDonald's for a month.
After enlisting the services of three medical consultants and a nutritionist and over the objections of his vegan-chef girlfriend, he commences with his experiment. He undergoes an initial physical and is told he's in excellent health. Given the green light, he begins his Mcbinge averaging 5000 calories a day. By the end of the first week he has gained ten pounds and his body fat has increased by 5 percent. Day twelve sees a 17 pound weight gain and by the end of the month his grand total weight increase is 25 pounds. Over the course of thirty days, his cholesterol jumps from 165 to 225, he suffers from heart palpitations, headaches, mood swings, nausea, sexual dysfunction and one of his more aggressive and disapproving doctors tells him his liver has turned into pâté. He is asked to stop repeatedly by his medical advisors and girlfriend who are worried about his rapidly deteriorating health, but he shrugs off their concerns, grabs a double quarter pounder with cheese and sees it through to its gluttonous end.
Super Size Me is an entertaining mix of man-on-the-street interviews, alarming obesity statistics and facts, visits to McDonald's restaurants and schools across 20 US cities, a lot of disturbing images of morbidly overweight Americans, health check-ups and stern warnings from his medical team and Spurlock's own observations, all centered around the experiment. Nothing is left out of the film, not even a revolting shot of him vomiting out of the car window after he's just eaten a super sized meal or his girlfriend's complaints about his burger-induced impotency, and things get up close and personal when we are treated to his pre-experiment rectal exam. In Wisconsin he meets Don Gorske who proudly claims to have eaten 19,000 Big Macs (2 a day for 26 years) with no apparent ill effects. When he shows a group of first graders pictures of Jesus, George Washington and Ronald McDonald, Ronald McDonald is the only one they can identify. He interviews students about their lunchtime eating habits and discusses meals with a cafeteria worker who says her main tool in the preparation of Federally-funded lunchtime meals is a box cutter, since most of it comes prepackaged and his disgusted vegan girlfriend compares ham to heroin.
Winner of the Director's Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Super Size Me is outrageously funny and clever. The film owes a lot of its success to Spurlock himself - possessed of a charming demeanor and slightly twisted wit, he goes about his gorgefest with a sense of purpose and good humour. The film doesn't tell us anything we don't already know, but its cinematic repackaging with fun animation, great music (Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls, Curtis Mayfield's Pusher Man, the Violent Femmes Fat and Wesley Willis' Rock and Roll McDonald's) and an interesting cast of characters makes its message more palatable and entertaining. Does McDonald's and the fast food industry share some of the blame? Yes, especially when they target toddlers barely out of diapers with cool toys, colourful playgrounds and special kiddie meals, but where does corporate responsibility end and personal responsibility begin? Two months after the film won at Sundance, McDonald's announced it was doing away with super sizing and denied it was influenced by the backlash from the film - whatever the case, it was a step in the right direction... or so it seemed. I've only been to a McDonald's once since I saw the film, and only then to order their fries, but I did ask for them to be super sized and they happily obliged.