Super Size Me (2004) Movie Review

Fast food is not good for you, so stop eating it.

Of course saying it is easier than doing it. As documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” shows, America has been programmed to eat fast food — in particular, by uber company McDonalds, which far surpasses just about everyone in sheer number of franchises and advertising dollars. If tempting America through the idiot tube wasn’t bad enough, McDonalds and its corporate minions have begun to invade the public schools. Is it too late for America’s youth? It just might be.

“Super Size Me” is a documentary by Spurlock shot with digital video. In it, Spurlock undergoes a voluntary experiment where he spends 30 days on nothing but McDonalds for his diet. This means McDonalds in the morning, for lunch, and for dinner. And if any of the sales clerks ask him if he wants his food “super sized”, he’s obligated to say Yes (which he does, with some relish). If that sounds like something that’ll make you throw up, it’s even worst for Spurlock’s vegan girlfriend, who confesses that since Spurlock has begun his experiment, his, shall we say, prowess in the bedroom has dropped dramatically.

Spurlock himself confesses that his experiment is an extreme case — after all, no one eats McDonalds every day for a whole month, right? Maybe, and maybe not. After a couple of days on the diet, Spurlock is seen enjoying the meal in his car, when he suddenly vomits out the window. Later on, his body starts to fight back, and Spurlock’s three doctor advisors tell him, in no uncertain terms, that they fear for his life if he doesn’t go back to a normal diet. Spurlock battles on to the full 30 days, including a moment where he wakes up in the middle of the night with shortness of breath, and confesses to the camera as if he fears he’s going to die right then and there.

While Spurlock clearly is no fast food junkie to start with, he does take a surprisingly balanced view of the fast food culture. In his first few days, Spurlock devours his McDonalds with glee and are wowed by the huge portions he gets. Even after days on the stuff, he’s still more than eager to down the fattening Big Macs and fries with gusto. And who can blame him. McDonalds has spent decades and billions perfecting their formula — literally as well as figuratively. At this point in their existence, McDonalds is a well-oiled machine. It knows how to hide, how to evade, and it has the money to keep the status quo at the status quo indefinitely. There is, after all, a reason McDonalds is the King of the block.

To be honest, the conclusion of Spurlock’s experiment seems rather obvious. Luckily for viewers who could care less about the “fast food is bad for you” argument, Spurlock fills his documentary with more than just droll speeches by nutritionists and tort lawyers hoping to make a couple of million off Ronald and company. Spurlock spends the middle of the documentary traveling around the country observing the habits of school children and school cafeterias. In one telling sequence, we learn that first graders can’t tell you who George Washington is, but they can easily identify Ronald McDonald.

Besides his ever-present digital camera, Spurlock spices up the visuals with spiffy animation and some funny anecdotes from experts, including one man who talks about how heckling smokers has become socially acceptable, but heckling an obese person has not. He makes a valid point, I think, that smoking and obesity are both derived form unhealthy addiction (one to tobacco, the other to food), and is, when you look at it from an objective point of view, the same animal. So why is it then acceptable to heckle and tell the smoker to just stop smoking, but it’s not the same to tell the obese person to stop stuffing food into their mouth?

“Super Size Me” is worth a look, even if you think you know everything there is to know about the obesity debate. Spurlock, using himself as a guinea pig, makes some excellent points, all of them backed up by hard data. Spurlock is no Michael Moore; although it’s readily obvious what the outcome of “Super Size Me” will be, one never feels that there is an inordinate amount of sleight of hand going by the filmmaker. To wit: if Spurlock wanted to hedge his bets, I can think of at least two pieces of footage that he wouldn’t have included. The fact that he did only makes you respect his documentary more.

Morgan Spurlock (director)
CAST: Morgan Spurlock

Buy Super Size Me on DVD