Movie Review
Super Size Me
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Cast: Morgan Spurlock

in which our hero embarks on a thirty-day McBinge in order to test both the limits of McDonalds’ nutritional viability and the limits of suffering for one’s art.

Morgan Spurlock—if we go by the Michael Moore benchmark of digestibility—is high on the scale of affable documentary hosts. His agenda is not, in fact, shoved down his audience’s throats like a triple-Quarter-Pounder-with-cheese. Rather, Spurlock’s journey seems to be as much about his own discovery as it is his audience’s. Taking his cue from a judge’s proposition that McDonald’s might successfully be sued if it could be proven that eating their food regularly posed health risks, Spurlock asked: What if somebody ate there regularly? Really regularly? Like, all the time? And what if that person was me?

Not quite the Black Gate of Mordor, but scary enough...

Starting his journey backed by a full complement of medical specialists (on the dime of his ex-wife’s medical benefits, cha-ching!), Spurlock starts out optimistic. After all, he kind of likes the taste of McDonald’s, despite what his better judgment may tell him about the wisdom of actually eating it. (He is, admittedly, living “every eight-year-old’s dream.”) Though concern is expressed, neither his gastroenterologist, his cardiologist nor his GP seem particularly frightened by his new crash diet. After all, Americans eat like that all the time, right? And they’re all more or less okay, even though they all have diabetes, right?

Super Size Me transcends most documentaries’ pallid treatment of facts and statistics by employing some of the most engaging and amazing graphics seen yet the field of indie-leftie-documentaries. Though the animations and illustrations are part of the entertainment, never once do they seem to leave that awkward aftertaste of the sugar-wrapped factoids others—did I mention Michael Moore again yet?—are so quick to bandy about. A clever and creative soundtrack (yes, both “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen and Wesley Willis’ “Rock and Roll McDonald’s”) adds to the charms of, what, ultimately, is really just a series of shots of the same guy eating Big Xtras over and over again.

Of course, in-between the eating—and vomiting—Spurlock takes the time to visit academics, lawyers and dieticians to discuss ethical, legal and nutritional issues in the context of a society whose members’ bounding obesity is creating an enormous public health crisis, and whose children are hard-coded from an early age to recognize Ronald McDonald before they can recognize the president. (On the other hand, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.) Enlightening and terrifying both, these commentaries—notably not including anyone from the McDonald’s corporation—flesh out, if you will, a tale of one of America’s biggest and most shamefully undiscussed problems.

”Yes, I would like to Super Size that order of morphine.”

In the middle of collecting upsetting suggestions about the dangers of ice cream and startling, though ultimately unsurprising revelations about the opiate content of cheese, Spurlock begins to feel terribly sick. Terribly terrible, sickly sick, and even a little panicky. His doctors are floored by the rapid decline of his liver function, while his nutritionist across town is stunned to see the formerly trim Spurlock ratchet up seventeen pounds in two short weeks. Spurlock’s girlfriend—vegan—grows worried and sexually unsatisfied, while Spurlock himself gives serious consideration to how far to push his body for the noble cause of getting the word out on film. His doctors, dismayed in the face of his rapidly declining health, make sure to enumerate a litany of symptoms which—in the increasingly more likely event he should feel them—would require an immediate trip to the emergency room.

Interestingly, Spurlock never delves too far into many of the areas that anti-McDonaldites have already highlighted as reasons not to go there, such as how their food is prepared, or the entire US beef industry. Instead Spurlock stays a fairly steady course in suggesting that fast food itself, with its incredibly elevated sugar content and ultimate lack of nutrients, is simply bad for you. Or as the late Wesley Willis put it:

McDonalds will make you fat
They serve Big Macs
They serve Quarter-Pounders
They will put pounds on you

It’s true, and we’re lucky Spurlock lived to tell about it.

By: Liz Clayton
Published on: 2004-05-26
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