How filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s month-long, all junk-food diet in Super Size Me served McDonald’s with a large portion of humble pie.
‘Everybody knows fast food’s bad for you, the question is, how bad? I don’t think people really know how bad a diet of fast food can be if you eat it regularly. True, somebody may not go to a McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I know many people in New York who’ll go to a McDonald’s for breakfast, they’ll go to Taco Bell for lunch and get a Nacho Bell Grande and for dinner they’ll go home and order Domino’s [Pizza]. So is that OK?’
Morgan Spurlock is on a mission. In person the 32-year old adopted New Yorker is animated, sharp and funny, just like at the beginning of his new documentary Super Size Me, an uproarious investigation into the fast-food phenomenon. But that’s before he’s turned guinea pig on a 30-day, McDonald’s-only diet. Very soon Spurlock’s deep-fried, fat-loaded, sugar-heavy intake is giving him ‘McSweats’ and ‘McTwitches’. ‘I’m going a little McCrazy,’ he confesses on-camera, just prior to regurgitating most of his Quarter Pounder out the car window.
Since its award-winning Sundance festival debut (Spurlock scooped the Best Director prize), Super Size Me comes with an extra-large helping of controversy wherever it goes. Much to McDonald’s chagrin, Spurlock’s ‘really great bad idea’ has gone, well, super-sized, though he denies he chose the corporation out of any personal grievance. ‘You think fast food, you think of the golden arches,’ he reasons. ‘For me they represent every fast food, every franchise, every chain.’
The results of Spurlock’s experiment shocked him and his three separate medical teams beyond all expectations of minor weight gain. ‘I was amazed at how depressed I got and felt all the time on this food,’ he recalls. ‘I would eat it and feel great. Then an hour later I would hit the wall and just crash and be moody and angry and unhappy. I didn’t anticipate it would hit me that drastically.’
Never mind mood swings and a lethargic sex drive (‘I have to be on top,’ his vegan chef girlfriend Alex gripes): things got much worse. After just two weeks his bemused doctor warns him, ‘Your liver is like pate.’ By week three, everyone is advising him to quit before his health is permanently damaged. Yet still Spurlock keeps forcing down the Big Macs. Inevitably McDonald’s, who Spurlock found particularly evasive during production, have been quick to come out and dismiss his behaviour as a foolish publicity stunt.
‘Their whole goal now is save face and spin this in a way where they’re great but I’ve done something misleading,’ Spurlock marvels. ‘How I’ve created this shock movie that comes so late to the dialogue and have you seen our salads? If you ask me this film’s showing up right on time.’ It’s certainly odd that just six weeks after Sundance, McDonald’s announced plans to phase out Super Size portions. ‘They said it had nothing to do with the film whatsoever,’ laughs Spurlock. ‘Just a coincidence.’ The fact that a new Ronald McDonald exercise video for kids has just been launched is presumably another of those chance occurrences.
Still, overemphasis on McDonald’s neglects Spurlock’s larger concerns about a country where 2 out of 3 adults are overweight or obese. ‘The scariest thing was finding out what garbage we’re feeding kids in our schools,’ he points out. ‘We’re getting rid of Physical Education, we’re getting rid of nutritional and health education classes, feeding them this and then we’re like, “Wow I wonder why the kids are gaining weight, I wonder why they can’t pay attention in school?” It’s terrible how, from a young age, we’re selling these kids off to these corporations.’
It’s a serious message but as with Michael Moore’s Bush-whacking, Spurlock has managed to serve it up in an appetizing and easily digestible style. He’s now planning an autumn US school tour ‘to get this DVD into the hands of every parent and teacher that I can.’ And though extra-vigilant about his diet now it took him 14 months to get back in shape he hasn’t sworn off fast food entirely. ‘I love a good burger,’ he grins. So while he’s in the UK? ‘I’m going to go out, get some fish and chips.’
* * * * (four stars)
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