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SUPER SIZE ME(director/producer: Morgan Spurlock; cinematographer: Scott Ambrozy; editors: Stela Gueorguieva and Julie (Bob) Lombardi; music by Steve Horowitz and Michael Parrish; cast: Morgan Spurlock, Ronald McDonald, Dr. Daryl Isaacs, Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, Dr. Stephen Siegel, Bridget Bennett, Eric Rowley, Alexandra Jamieson, Dr. David Satcher; Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: The Con; Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films; 2004)
“Something like a public service announcement about a country-wide health problem that is presented with a comic edge.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Morgan Spurlock’s good-natured but rather thin cinema vérité documentary attempts to zero in on why sixty percent of America is overweight. He does it in a simplistic personal manner that piles up obvious results that are dished out in both a pleasant and unpleasant manner. Morgan is always pleasantly upbeat and genial in his attack on the Big Mac culture, but gross in showing such unnecessary things as losing his meal out a car window, getting a rectal exam, munching constantly on Big Macs and experiencing tummy problems. The result of his McDonald’s diet is that a once healthy Morgan undergoes unpleasant changes. The film itself is momentary filling but soon leaves you hungry for something more substantial. But, at least, it’s entertaining and serves as a necessary social criticism while effectively offering information that could save your life. It was something like a public service announcement about a country-wide health problem that is presented with a comic edge.

Morgan finds the main culprit for the obesity epidemic is the fast-food phenomenon that has changed the country’s eating habits in modern times–we are told that people are now accustomed to dining out whereas once they mostly ate at home. It’s also pointed out by the former surgeon general (Dr. David Satcher) that of all the preventable diseases, only smoking kills more people. Morgan warns if you are a patron of McDonald’s expect large food portions with too many calories and unhealthy food that contains too many preservatives, sugar, and fat. Morgan believes people choose to eat such food because they have become brainwashed into believing that if it tastes good it can’t be bad and have bought into the advertisements that make the Golden Arches out to be a treasured national icon (especially convincing to children who can’t tell the difference between facts and commercials). This tongue-in-cheek look at how McDonald’s has altered the eating habits of not only Americans but many foreign countries, blames the popular restaurant chain for caring more about making money than doing the right thing. He nevertheless lays the main responsibility on the individual to supervise their own diets (parents to supervise their children) and on the educational system for being irresponsible because it has caved in to the pressures of the giant fast food industry by allowing the schoolchildren of America to be served school lunches that cater to a McDonald’s type of diet.

Morgan uses himself as a guinea pig to experiment on what would happen if he ate three meals a day only at McDonald’s for the next 30 days, and if offered the Super Size portion would always accept. The 33-year-old West Virginia native now residing in Manhattan with his vegan chef girlfriend Alex (who is humorously dismayed at this experiment), has an internist, cardiologist and gastroenterologist examine him before he starts his experimental diet. All the medical people declare him in perfect health as he begins the study; afterwards they will monitor his condition throughout.

After ordering every food available on the McDonald’s menu at least once, Morgan finds within a short time that he grows increasingly tired, depressed, loses his sex drive, has food craving attacks like an addict and overall feels lousy. By the end of the month he gains a whopping 25 pounds. The doctors are all amazed at how his health has declined, as their tests show his blood pressure has gone significantly up, his liver is damaged like an alcoholic’s, his cholesterol is at dangerous levels, he’s at risk for a heart attack and diabetes, and is warned to end the experiment because they can’t guarantee a reversal of the negative effects or if he can live if he continues. Though Morgan’s intake of junk food was excessive and not what the usual McDonald’s customer consumes, nevertheless this experiment certainly makes it clear how unhealthy fast food can be.

The film’s major fault, aside from its grainy quality and unimaginative photography, is in the missed opportunities to ask tough questions about the way the fast-food corporations do business. Morgan goes globe-trotting across America, including a visit to a suburban school cafeteria in Illinois and to a number of McDonald’s in Houston, infamously known as the #1 city in America with the most fatties; he interviews dieticians, fast-food patrons, lawyers and nutritionists, but he seems more immersed feasting on Big Macs than homing in on how big business cooks up such fat profits from such bad food and how the government lets down the public by failing to protect the consumers. First-time filmmaker Morgan is a pleasant dude with a self-deprecating sense of humor, who seems to be trying to sell his film as much as tell about the health risks of a fast food diet (both of which he successfully does). He never got around to telling us anything more than what we should already know about junk food, even though that was enough to upset McDonald’s (they reacted by cleverly taking Super Size portions off their menu, at least while the film is running). Morgan never named corrupt politicians bought off by the fast-food lobbyist or blamed anyone in particular for the problem except for public institutions in general. He also never followed the money trail of all those who profit from the fast-food industry at the public’s expense. It seemed the film was more interested in being about Morgan feeling terrible after his experiment than in ruffling the feathers of those who should be held accountable for why the public is not safeguarded from such health hazards. Nevertheless this film means well and is a small step in the right direction, and should be commended at least for letting us know that something in America really smells.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”