A film review by Craig J. Koban



2004, no MPAA rating, 98 mins.

A documentary written and directed by Morgan Spurlock

It’s no secret at all that obesity is becoming a National health epidemic.  The numbers are absolutely startling.  Obesity is linked to a huge series of other health related risks, such as Coronary Heart Disease, hypertension, and diabetes, just to name a few. 

I think that this is one of the reasons that I chose to lose weight shortly after I completed high school.  I clocked in at nearly 300 pounds and my doctor told me that if I did not shape up and make better personal choices, then things would only get worse.  Because I did not want to stay in with the other sixty per cent of North Americans that are overweight, I decided to lose weight by making healthy personal choices.  It took a few years, but I lost a good 80 pounds (a small amount of which I have gained back, but most of it stayed off), but I did it by taking control of my life and my choices. 

Centers for Disease Control are now stating that obesity is overtaking smoking as the number one preventable cause of death in North America.  This is a big problem.  This is what, to a small degree, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, SUPER SIZE ME, is about.  A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film details Spurlock’s widely publicized experiment: He stopped exercising and ate three meals a day at McDonald's.  Moreover, when an associate from the fast food chain asked him at any time to “super size his portions,” he had to agree.  He also had to have everything on the menu at least once during those thirty days. 

The result:  Spurlock gets fat and out of shape. 

Am I the only one with the good common sense to say…well, duh!? 

It is Spurlock’s silly and inane experiment that is the true problem with his documentary.  Sure, it’s quite entertaining at times and funny.  But it lacks a real probing into the answers to the national obesity epidemic, and instead picks easy targets.  Who on this planet thinks that McDonald's or any other fast food chain is healthy to eat at on a regular basis? 

The documentary starts off modestly and humorously, as Spurlock (a poor man’s Michael Moore) goes around the country and interviews several people, doctors, diet experts, nutritionists, and even some fast food-aholics (he interviews one man, amazingly, that eats roughly three Big Macs a day and, surprisingly, looks relatively thin...reasons for this are never explored).  He even starts off the film as a relatively trim and fit young man.  At 6'2” and 185 pounds, three sets of doctors basically define him to be in “perfect health”.  He gets three opinions from three different specialists, I guess, to provide validity to his pre-experiment health status.  Why he needed physicians to provide a diagnosis on his post-experiment status is beyond me, as the outcome is painfully obvious and predictable. 

Spurlock’s arguments come in the form of corporate responsibility over personal responsibility, and I think its here where he completely baffles me.  There is no doubt that there is overwhelming evidence to support that the big corporations like McDonald's clearly target children in their advertising, and the billions of dollars every year they spend in advertising can attest to that.  Just look at McD’s, for example: they have playgrounds that are borderline mini-amusement parks, they have Happy Meals with small toys inside, and even have colorful mascots.  In the film’s most hilarious (and scary moment), a kindergarten child recognizes a picture Ronald McDonald and not one of Jesus! 

Spurlock is a fairly entertaining chap, and has a hip and funny approach to the material.  But what he lacks (that Michael Moore does not) is his ability to probe the issues hard.  I am sorry, but his “experiment” does nothing in the way to tell me something that I don’t already now: that eating fast food will make you fat!  He actually went from a perfectly healthy young man to one that gained 25 pounds, had a failing liver, and whose sex life is described by his girlfriend to be shamefully “lacking”.  More than anything, Spurlock comes across as an obsessive voyeur who seems to clamor for more attention to himself than the actual cause he is investigating.  He seems a bit unmoved by what he is doing to his body throughout much of the film, and apparently does not concern himself with the concern of the loved ones around him.   

Really, what was the point of his experiment, other to prove the inevitable?  His attention grabbing stunt, no doubt, gave his film a lot of instant media attention. But it ultimately proves nothing more than any family doctor could have told you in under ten seconds.  If you really think of it, Spurlock is the ultimate hypocrite:  He chastises McDonald’s and other fast food joints for not taking any ethical and corporate responsibility when selling unhealthy food to people when he, himself, is needlessly walking into the chains and stuffing himself ridiculously and becoming unhealthy in the process.  This seems like a vain effort to sell a documentary.  What other hook would there be to see this? 

Yes, there is a terrifying psychological link between McDonald’s and the people who eat there.  Yes, they target youth in their advertising.  Yes, they target youth to hook them when they are young in hopes of luring them in later when they are older.  But, c’mon, when does blaming corporate businesses end and blaming yourself?  I never gained the impression in any way that Spurlock is trying to find deeper and more concrete explanations as to why our society is fat.  I also found it personally infuriating to see him interview countless overweight people followed by even more footage grossly overweight people.  The answers that these people give to the questions of where they eat and how often is not a surprise.  Funny, when he interviews “healthy” looking people who appear in great shape, the few of them respond that they eat at fast food places regularly.  He does not seem interested in discerning the reasons as to how they, miraculously, maintain their figures. 

Again...I ask...why?

SUPER SIZE ME is more of a gimmick and a JACKASS-esque stunt then a serious exploration into obesity.  Sure, Spurlock tries to call corporate execs from McDonald’s, but his documentary seems less interested in that then his own pathetic stunt.  Whereas Michael Moore would have run into a McDonald corporate office and demanded answers, Spurlock essentially goes no further with his phone calls and sticks with his experiment.  Forget that the stunt is completely irresponsible; the offensive part of the documentary is how he fails to look at and investigate other important associations.  One would be economics (clearly, lower class citizens look to the cheaper menus at these establishments as options).  Family structure is another (with more two income households with mothers and fathers that work around the clock, who has time to cook?).  What about cuts in Federal funding for health education (which also forces some schools to sign contracts with soda manufacturers for the much-needed cash).  David Suzuki, in a recent article, states that we are so fat now because of the way cities are organized.  After World War II the proliferation of suburbs often led to increased walking distances to schools, work, and so forth.  Thus, we began to drive more and, in the process, exercised less. 

Spurlock addresses none of these possible issues. 

The most obvious association is, of course, personal responsibility and choice.  Many people foolishly sue McDonald’s for contributing to their weight gain when they really should just look in the mirror and blame themselves.  Of course (as the film wisely points out) health education is not what it used to be and physical education programs are run a lower than required levels.  Seriously, though, do we need a high school health class to tell us not to eat crappy food?  Furthermore, when will parents come to the table and take some personal responsibility for the garbage that their children ingest on a daily basis?  McDonald’s does target youth in their advertising, but so does the Gap.  Do you feel like someone is pointing a gun to your head and forcing you to go to the Gap for clothes?  This should not be any different for food.  Of course, the commercials are slick and hip, but are we really all mindless zombies that can’t see something for what it really is:  In McDonald’s case – really crappy food. 

SUPER SIZE ME is an innocuous failure of a documentary.  Light-hearted and funny, it nevertheless goes into no serious direction at looking for real answers to the problems of obesity.  It is, in itself, a slickly advertised stunt and offers no deep analysis or answers.  Funny, when I was on my diet I actually ate at McDonald’s quite often, but I was careful and watched precisely what I ate.  It is possible to eat healthy at McDonald’s, as long as you combine eating with healthy living and steady exercise.  I think a more daring stunt would have been for Spurlock to eat nothing but the healthy choices on the McDonald’s menu for thirty days and combine that with exercise everyday.  Wait, that would not be daring enough, because you’d be able to maintain your weight and health, and there would be no scathing documentary.  It’s just like one of the women he interviews says, “We have a choice to eat either a Big Mac or a salad at McDonald’s, but no one ever chooses the salad.” 

That is the real problem.

  H O M E