Super Size Me (2004) ***1/2
Written & directed by Morgan Spurlock. Producers, J.R.Morley & Heather M. Winters. Editing, Stela Georgieva, Julie Bob Lombardi, Digital Visual Effects, Jonah Tobias. Cast: Morgan Spurlock et al. Producing company, The Con. 96 minutes
In all of my annual pilgrimages to the Cannes Film Festival I can’t remember seeing any obese people. There’s a staggering, huge difference between the United States and France –and I suspect, most of the rest of the planet. America the Beautiful has a huge aesthetic problem with The Fat Americans -- but the nation can live with the visuals. What is crucial is the major problem of our national health.
In France, the Mecca of good food and great cuisine, “real” restaurants abound, but additionally, in the last decades fast-food joints –notably MacDonalds-- have grown in that nation as well as in Europe-at-large. Yet it has not resulted in generations of fat youths, the major group of consumers. Could be the genes, but also moderation. In the film, a French lady interviewed on a New York street states that in France what in the U.S.A is a small MacBurger called a Big Mac. (By the way, that lady is overweight, whether from French or American Macs, I do not know.)
Morgan Spurlock is the writer, director and star of “Super Size Me.” Remember his name. There’s a lot of talent among creative documentarists but alas, their works, whether or not polemical, have microscopic publics. Only Michael Moore has become a household name. Mr. Spurlock recalls Mr. Moore in many ways, but he sticks to funniness and avoids bitterness.
Finding biographical facts on Mr. Spurlock was not easy. He is a West Virginian from an arts-oriented family. He was rejected five times by the University of Southern California’s film school but did graduate from NYU’s film school. He’s won awards (as writer, director and producer) and founded the production company “The Con.”
“Super Size Me” is his first feature movie. The inspiration came to him at a family Thanksgiving dinner, when, in TV news, he saw the item on two girls suing McDonald’s for their weight gains. So Spurlock, who was in excellent physical shape, decided to spend a whole month eating nothing but fast food at MacDonalds. He consulted (before and during) three doctors, a physiologist, and a dietician. (It’s all in the movie.) I will not take up space by summarizing the story or detailing it. Let me just say that it is fascinating, most informative and funny. The subject per se is no joke, but it is handled with excellent humor (mostly black humor) which causes non-stop laughter in the audience, and this as it watches constant, dire, unarguable, life-menacing facts and figures on the screen.
The key to this is that while the warnings about smoking have become a norm in the U.S.A ---- and by now in many other countries -—nothing, at least on that scale, has been done about eating (and drinking soft drinks.)
The movie is original and highly inventive ways but there is nothing invented about the scourge of eating oneself to illnesses, even death. Spurlock has a great eye for passing details, such as the obesity of customers as well as some of the MacDonalds staff. He uses statistics – many-- of all types, cases of all types, people of all types. And, by transforming himself into a guinea pig, he becomes a hero in all respects. And a temporary martyr too: he does not die for our sins but many who overdose on fast food, do.
There are major sidelines to his exploration. It spreads to terrible nutrition of kids in presumably most schools where guilty food and soft drinks are provided by firms –which also “nourish” prisons. Kids see millions of food ads on TV, know by heart their slogans, tunes, cartoons and details, identify in a flash Ronald MacDonald’s pictures but not those of Jesus or President Washington. They know little –if anything—of history or current affairs. In a Jay Leno-ish segment, nobody knows what a calorie is. It’s all It as funny –and as depressing—as TV’s “Jaywalking.”
Super Size Me, deftly, cleverly and humorously, employs vigorous tactics plus avalanches of facts that turn it into a “Comic Horror” movie. Related wrongs keep appearing. Example: Physical Education in schools apparently is required only by one state, Illinois, where the camera takes us to Naperville. Example: New Yorkers used to walk some 5 miles a day, but fewer and fewer do it because of fast-food related weight problems. It’s all done without mirrors but with merciless truths, funny cartoons and all the trappings of “reality” movies. And, as in the films by Michael Moore, there’s clear indictment of capitalist corporations which sacrifice the well-being of humans to the altar of financial gains.
The movie won a major TV prize, and the Director’s Award at the Sundance Festival. More awards will certainly follow.