Super Size Me
Director: Morgan Spurlock. Documentary. Personal investigation into American obesity trends. Featuring Morgan Spurlock, Alexandra Jamieson, Dr. Daryl Isaacs, Bridget Bennett, Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, Dr. Stephen Siegel, Dr. David Satcher.


Is it too easy to say that Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me is a self-aggrandizing documentary?

Yes, because puns that awful might seem delicious, but in the long term, they're really not good for you. Sorta like quarter-pounders.

And more yes, because Super Size Me turns out to be more than one-stop shopping, more than Spurlock's bid to be Michael Moore's apprentice in the world of pop provocation. This scruffily no-budget but pleasingly ambitious picture is powered by Spurlock's infamous stunt of eating three McDonald's meals a day for a month, forsaking any other forms of food or beverage, and checking in with doctors to see how quickly and badly his body rebels. The conclusion of this centerpiece stunt is disquieting all right, combining everything from liver malfunction to blood pressure to respiratory problems to bedroom despair; Spurlock's girlfriend, a vegan chef with her own website of temptingly easy recipes (and I say this as a devout carnivore!), half-jokingly opines that his penis has been clogged by saturated fat. The director's doctors pass from a certain game skepticism about the experiment to some genuine expressions of alarm, though you can occasionally sense a histrionic impulse in their responses. (After all, do they really want to ruin the film by expressing only mild forms of concern?) Mickey Dee's, despite having altered their menus in the wake of this film's release, has also loudly maintained that the maniac scale of Spurlock's stunt disqualifies his results from any real application to normal people. Fair enough. But then, given that Spurlock enters a mere month of Value Meals in fit condition, while as many as a third of Americans dine once a day on fast food while getting no exercise, ever, it's hard to deny Super Size Me a certain metonymic credibility, gesturing in a small but dramatic way to a super-sized problem.

What really distinguishes the movie, beyond the free-and-easy gambol of its punchy humor, its admirable earnestness, and its occasionally amateurish and repetitive montage, is that Spurlock has ventured what few social commentators bother with these days, especially in the burgeoning field of pop-documentary: the possibility for real change. Not every social issue can be treated this way, and some problems are so vast and densely implicated that proposing a remedy might even seem flip and na´ve. But I think Spurlock is on the right track here when he uses his McDonald's mission as a route into larger discussions about American diet, the corporatization of the food business, and the warping of young people's eating habits into nearly irredeemable shape. As a response to these trends, Super Size Me profiles how one high school mounted a successful fundraising campaign to improve its gym facilities, so that students would balance whatever they were eating with a sustained and instituionally supported regimen of physical training. Another school ditched its standard-issue cafeteria plan of freeze-packed fried foods and substituted an equally inexpensive service providing fresh vegetables and the raw ingredients for balanced meals cooked from scratch; not only does the collective health of the students markedly improve, but discipline problems decline precipitously as their energy and concentration increase.

These are powerful anecdotes, though they may just be anecdotes. Super Size Me isn't quite illustrated or organized sufficiently to persuade as more than an entertaining, well-made case. You wind up trusting Spurlock and admiring his commitment to this issue, without quite believing that there isn't more to be said at a few key junctures of his argument. But don't assume you've gleaned his whole message just by over-hearing the concept, and don't underestimate the film's sagacity in connecting a handful of issues with the single, sturdy thread of America's sugar addiction and eating compulsion. If you'll forgive one more unforgivable pun, Spurlock has given us plenty to chew on, and he's served it up with panache. Good enough for me, folks. B


Academy Award Nominations:
Best Documentary Feature

Other Awards:
Sundance Film Festival: Best Director (Documentary)
Writers Guild of America: Best Documentary Screenplay
Satellite Awards: Best Documentary Feature

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