Controversial filmmaker Michael Moore chronicled his late-1990s book tour for Downsize This! in the documentary The Big One. As he peddled his intolerance of corporate greed from city to city, Moore mingled with the masses and found that times were indeed tough for the American workforce. Factories were closing, multi-income and single-parent families struggled to balance domestic bliss and economic demands, and conglomerate companies were sending work overseas to take advantage of cheap labor. Moore’s main point was that big business cares more about stockholders than about customers and workers. This was no shocking revelation, of course, but Moore kept the trek entertaining. He went behind the headlines of his subject matter, poking around in its embers like a wily campfire storyteller and finding precious nuggets in the details.
In his own video diary, Super Size Me, New York resident (by way of West Virginia) Morgan Spurlock now picks up Moore’s torch of proletarian advocacy as he crisscrosses the country to examine the fast-food industry. Spurlock, like Moore, is the focus of his film, but he does less grandstanding and actually throws his own body into the fray. Spurlock turns himself into a guinea pig dedicated to eating only at McDonald’s for an entire month. Also like Moore, Spurlock uses himself and his primary goal as a launch pad to investigate other issues, such as public-school lunch programs, while nearly eating himself to death.
Spurlock’s film is scrappy but amateurish when compared to such recent nonfiction forays as Capturing the Friedmans or The Fog of War, and it nearly runs out of steam as it nears its 30-day finish line with a sort of Leaving Las Vegas subtext. Music pieces like Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube Waltz” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusher Man” are used to good effect, but the brief segments of animation border on being cheesy, and Super Size Me is more hamstrung than enhanced by its own Everyman approach to filmmaking.
Spurlock entered his burger-boy experiment with four main rules: He would super-size only if asked; he would consume only what McDonald’s sold over the counter, including water; he would eat every item on the menu at least once; and he would eat three meals a day. Spurlock used McDonald’s as his research trough because it is the largest fast-food chain in the world. And we watch him munch and slurp and cope with McStomach Ache and McGas in Manhattan (home to 83 McDonald’s restaurants), California, Wisconsin and Texas.
The audience gets rather bombarded by facts: We are told that 60 percent of adults are obese, that each day one in four Americans eats at a fast-food establishment, that the country is populated with more than 3 million soda machines and that there are 48 teaspoons of sugar in a Big Gulp. This data is graphically complemented with scenes of Spurlock vomiting out his car window on day two, a human hair slowly being pulled from a parfait, a stomach operation and numerous lard-challenged and, thankfully, clothed buttocks.
Three doctors (a cardiologist, a general practitioner and a gastroenterologist) monitor Spurlock’s binge and give blow-by-blow accounts of how his 6-foot-2, 185.5-pound body is reacting to his new diet. Spurlock chats with Baskin-Robbins ice-cream heir John Robbins and a guy who ate 741 Big Macs in one year, and drops in on a speaking appearance by famous Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. Spurlock also consults with nutritionists and conducts interviews with professors, a lobbyist, former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and schoolchildren, while Spurlock’s vegan-chef girlfriend interjects her concerns about his health and comments about their deteriorating sexual activity.
We all are generally aware that fast food may be clogging our arteries with cholesterol. Fast food also is linked to hypertension, mood swings and addiction. Super Size Me asks us why we still indulge and whether we are setting up kids to make bad choices. Spurlock’s trip begins with an Egg McMuffin value meal and ends with a clamorous McDonald’s birthday party. In between, he keeps a record of his diet on a scorecard, gets a weird feeling in his penis and provides information that says America is the fattest nation in the world.
“Left unabated, obesity would take over cigarettes as No. 1 killer in America,” says Satcher, which certainly gives a new definition to the term “Big Mac attack.”