My Favorite Movies – Super Size Me (2004)

6 Oct

By Tanner Smith

Back in my university days, I was studying the art of documentary film. I developed a true fondness for cinematic non-fiction such as “Hoop Dreams,” the “Up” series, “Life Itself,” “Streetwise,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II,” “Paradise Lost,” “Touching the Void,” “Roger & Me,” “Trouble the Water,” among others–all of these films took great measures in making real-life stories into compelling cinematic art.

One of my absolute favorites then and now was and is Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” a documentary that told a serious message in a thoroughly entertaining way. I think it was this film that taught me that when it came to documentary filmmaking, entertainment can be just as important as telling a compelling story. Likable people become dramatic characters, performance art helps illustrate points, the narrator could be a wisecracker, and so on.

Morgan Spurlock puts himself at center-stage in his own movie, “Super Size Me,” in which he decides he’s going to go on a month-long diet of nothing but McDonald’s–if McDonald’s doesn’t sell it, he can’t eat it. And if he’s given the option of Super Size, he HAS to take it. (Since this film’s release in 2004, McDonald’s has gotten rid of the Super Size Option–though, they claim the film had nothing to do with that decision.)

Spurlock is a very likable guy, so I have no problem following him on this journey to see what would happen if he stays on this ridiculous diet for a full 30 days. And more importantly, he doesn’t shy away from showing what eating fast food day after day does to a person with no balanced diet. For example, one day, he’s sitting in his car, going to town on his Super Size double quarter pounder cheese meal, enjoying a sugar high, and unable to finish it before he has to upchuck. This is only the beginning…

He frequently visits three physicians to keep track of what this food is doing to his health. What happens is he gains close to 25 pounds, his liver malfunctions, his sex drive is low on energy, and he has heart palpitations.

There’s a reason my mother, who is a high-school Family and Consumer Science teacher, likes to show this film to her classes.

We also join Spurlock on certain detours, as he visits people who are also affected by fast-food effects and also takes a look at public schools to compare cafeteria lunches. The message is clear–we as Americans consume too much fast food, which doesn’t do well for our health, and we need to either have a more balanced diet or swear off it entirely. If not for Spurlock’s vision, drive, and biting wit, “Super Size Me” would simply be a PowerPoint presentation not worth spending too much time talking about. (I’m looking at YOU, “Forks Over Knives.”)

Plus, the experiment is a great hook–it’s one thing to be told fast food is bad for you; it’s another to see it demonstrated.

And yes, I know the effect is not the same for everybody–there have been people besides McDonald’s spokesmen that argue that this diet allows weight and cholesterol reduction. And I know Morgan Spurlock is aware of this too–but c’mon, it’s his movie. His main goal isn’t to keep his audience away from McDonald’s but simply to show what heavy consumption of McDonald’s COULD do to people, like what it did to him. He’s showing us in a lighthearted way an understanding of what we’re eating.

Btw, check out “Super Size Me’s” DVD extras–there’s another experiment Spurlock tries out, with different burgers and fries; watch what happens with McDonald’s fries after a while…

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