From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Monday, May 17, 2004

Movie Review: Super Size Me
Super Size Me
Written and directed by, and starring - Morgan Spurlock; Not Rated (a smidge of nudity, and a couple of sexual and drug references, but nothing racy).

Intro - Appetizers
America has long had this fascination with quick weight loss. I hasn't done a thing to reduce our reputation as one of the most obese countries on the planet. These days, everyone is looking for that wonder fix that will make them look svelte with a minimal amount of work. In that vein, I say I have seen the answer. Forget Atkins. Forget South Beach. All you need to do is see this one movie. And you will never want to eat junk fast food again.

Story - The Menu
Super Size Me is a documentary by an amiable gentleman named Morgan Spurlock. Morgan was interested in the lawsuits filed by two young girls who were claiming that McDonald's used false advertising in conjunction with their food to make them obese and unhealthy. The suit was dismissed by a judge last September. In his opinion, Judge Robert Sweet wrote:

"The plaintiffs have made no explicit allegations that they witnessed any particular deceptive advertisement, and they have not provided McDonald's with enough information to determine whether its products are the cause of the alleged injuries."

Spurlock felt that this was a flawed premise. McDonald's had to have plenty of info to indicate their food contributed to poor health. So to prove the point, Spurlock engaged in a most unusual experiment. For 30 days, he ate McDonald's food three meals a day. And he documented the ordeal on film for all the world to see.

Rules of the game - The Burger
After extensive testing by three different medical specialists to establish biological baselines for his general health, Spurlock set out on his quest. The rules he had were fairly basic:

1) He had to try everything on the McDonald's menu at least once during the 30 days. Over that month, he would travel to different parts of the country talking to various dietary experts, as well as average people on the street, to get a feel for how fast food played a part in their lives. If in his travels, he found a new or regional special (like the Texas Homestyle Burger while in Texas), he had to try it.

2) He would super size his meal if asked. Otherwise he would just get a regular size.

3) If it wasn't on a McDonald's menu, he could not order it. So he couldn't have water to drink unless that McDonald's sold bottled water as one of the menu options.

4) He would not engage in any more exercise than the average American. So he did not work out, and with the help of a pedometer, limited his walking to no more than a mile a day.

Lessons - Fries with that?
Along the way, Spurlock mixes his journey "living every 8 year-old's dream" with information, graphics, and interviews that show just how much McDonald's pervades American culture. There's a map showing McDonald's coverage of Manhattan (where Spurlock lives), that almost makes me think Starbucks is run by amateurs when it comes to coverage.

The periodic weigh-ins and blood tests take some of the humor in cracks about coming down with the "McShakes and McSweats" in day 2 and injects a morbid gallows humor quality to it. Spurlock puts on 10 pounds in a week on his new diet, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Over the course of the 30 days, we see Spurlock morph from a very funny and energetic man, into a moody, lethargic mess. A scare late in the run from a series of chest pains brings the seriousness of the problems connected to poor diet disturbingly close to home.

And Spurlock shows a real sense of trying to hit the audience where it hurts most. The man has to have utmost confidence in his relationship to allow his girlfriend (a vegan chef in one of the most amusing twists in the story) describe in fair detail the adverse affect his new diet is having on their sex life. She is not blunt, but she also isn't kind. If there's anything that could scare the average American male into trying to straighten up his diet, it's the potential impact on his wang.

The discussions about the cultural impact McDonald's and other junk food purveyors have is also dissected pretty extensively. From talking with first graders who can't identify George Washington but pick Ronald McDonald out in no time, to discussions about how junk food vendors dictate school dietary policy, the audience sees that the reach these companies have literally knows no bounds. This isn't a documentary. It's practically a horror movie. And it's acted out a hell of a lot better than that damn Blair Witch Project.

The Big Finish - Fried Apple Pie and Sundaes
By the time the audience gets to the end of Spurlock's dietary odyssey, the real risk that people gladly take every day with their health is painfully clear. Spurlock celebrates his final McMeal with a flourish, having a McDonald's Birthday Party with friends, family, and physicians as he closes the door on the longest run of self destructive ingestion since Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, a parallel that has more impact that is readily apparent at first.

You can't help but be happy for Spurlock for having made it through to the end, despite some really rough patches along the way. You also have to feel a little disgusted by what he actually did. The thought of even looking at another Quarter Pounder by the end just made my stomach heave a little. And you have to be horrified at the thought that are people who actually do what Spurlock did voluntarily for every day of their lives. Don't believe me? Spurlock's got the numbers to prove it.

Go see the movie. Tell me you could even think about having fast food again right after watching it. You'd have to have a stronger stomach than I to manage it.

If you're interested, you can see more at the official website here.