Super Size Me: 2004, dir. Morgan Spurlock. Seen at Dobie (May 23).
Super Size Me is a documentary that centers around a stunt: the filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, decides he will eat nothing but food from McDonald’s for 30 days. That’s the gimmick that attracts people to this movie.
And it’s working: the movie is earning a surprising amount of money in its limited run. It’s nowhere near being a summer blockbuster but it’s become surprisingly popular. It’s this year’s Little Movie That Could. I love it when this happens.
We saw the movie at Dobie (in the Egyptian Room, their largest theater) and while the theater wasn’t full, there was a nice healthy crowd. I mean “healthy” in terms of number of people, though. By the end of the movie I am sure we all felt like unhealthy slobs. Well, I did, but I’m susceptible.
Morgan Spurlock is a charming man who reminds me a little of the young Don Ameche. Between episodes of his visiting doctors and nutritionists to find out what his all-Mickey-D diet is doing to him, he gives us easily understandable nuggets of information about the state of the American diet. He shows us school lunches where the kids are consuming nothing but potato chips and soft drinks. (I used to eat a Snickers bar and Diet Coke for lunch myself, but I realize now this was a bad, bad choice.) He provides statistics on obesity, on fast food, on other nutritional disasters in this country. I was particularly taken by the interview with the son of one of the Baskin-Robbins founders.
I have to say I wish Spurlock hadn’t shown the scene where abdominoplasty was performed, or whatever that surgery was. I had to take off my glasses and I know my boyfriend wasn’t looking. Fortunately this is one brief scene only. There’s also a scene where the supersized lunch Spurlock is trying to finish causes him to throw up, but it’s not particularly graphic.
Meanwhile, in between these interesting tidbits, we return to Spurlock and his 30-day experiment. His nutritionist begs him to at least have water with some of his meals instead of soft drinks, because he’s consuming so many calories and putting on weight. His girlfriend the vegan chef is just disgusted. His doctor is surprised to discover the diet causing liver damage and asks him to stop entirely, but Spurlock is one dedicated filmmaker.
A lot of people are comparing this documentary to Bowling for Columbine and comparing Spurlock with Michael Moore. I think that’s misleading, but then I’m not very fond of Mr. Moore and I thought Bowling for Columbine often showed contempt for its audience. I also don’t like the way Moore often manipulates people to get the shots and make the points he wants.
Super Size Me is focused on one issue, as opposed to Moore flying all over the place, and while many of Spurlock’s revelations were certainly not news to me, I felt the movie was not talking down to me in any way. Spurlock was entertaining without being overly clownish or obnoxious. He apparently has a background in filming advertisements, which he uses to good effect in this movie. It may be manipulative, but it’s subtle and clever enough that you don’t much notice.
The only carp I had was the very end of the movie, which does get somewhat preachy. The results of Spurlock’s experiment, and the related information he presents to us, ought to speak for itself. Yet he felt the need to give us all a little lecture at the end that was entirely unnecessary. It was a little annoying but didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the movie.
While certainly Super Size Me is gimmicky in many ways, it makes its point. Yes, it is possible to make healthy dining choices in McDonald’s, or in a school cafeteria, most people don’t. You can see the effect that Spurlock’s diet had on him, but you also understand the effects of poor nutrition and lack of exercise on the rest of us, particularly children. Even if you know this stuff already, the movie is well worth watching.