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Growing Concerns

 

Super Size Me

Morgan Spurlock, USA, 2003

Rating: 3.3

 

 

Posted: May 25, 2004

By Laurence Station

First-time director Morgan Spurlock takes a gimmicky premise (he will eat nothing but McDonald's fast food for 30 days) and a growing health crisis (obesity in America) and manages to craft an engaging, alarming, and mostly entertaining debut feature, Super Size Me. The gimmick quickly wears thin, but the concerns Spurlock addresses are certainly valid. If nothing else, Super Size Me should help expand awareness of overeating and lack of exercise across the general populace of one of the fattest nations on Earth.

Contrived as the film can be, Super Size Me's main problem is Spurlock himself. As in, who is he? In the film, he's a guy who lives with a vegan chef girlfriend and comes across as a journalist, though we're never told who or what he represents. Googling Spurlock quickly tells us far more than the movie: We learn that he's a native of West Virginia who was rejected from USC's film school five times before moving east and graduating from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts in 1993. Why Spurlock chose to reveal so little about his past or qualifications (nutritional or journalistic) is curious. Perhaps he wanted to come across as an Average Joe we could all relate to. Then again, he might have figured that being an aspiring filmmaker would have given him less credibility when it came to exploring his topic. The point is, we never find out, and that blank-slate approach proves a nagging curiosity as Super Size Me documents Spurlock's painful 30-day fast food-only ordeal.

The actual process of eating nothing but McDonald's is entertaining, but Spurlock tries a bit too hard to ratchet up the tension by visiting various health experts and doctors who repeatedly warn him of the dangers being done to his body. At one point he wakes up in the middle of the night and tells his digital camera that he's having trouble breathing and feels tightness in his chest. Certainly, if things ever got too bad, Spurlock would have received medical attention; scenes like this one seem unnecessary and artificial in regards to the overall point being made about the unhealthiness of eating an exclusive fast-food diet. More effective are the medical facts: Spurlock gains 25 pounds over the 30 days, his cholesterol level skyrockets and he risks permanent damage to his liver. The medical point being made here is undermined somewhat, as even Spurlock admits that hardly anyone is going to eat such an extreme diet for such an extended period of time. Clearly though, neither he nor the film's medical experts expected a man who entered the diet in peak health to decline so markedly.

Super Size Me's most effective moments come when Spurlock examines the broader issues of junk food consumption in America, from schools that profit from vending machine sales (and thus are less inclined to offer students healthier dining options) to the practice of McDonald's and similar businesses catering to youngsters in an attempt to indoctrinate impressionable youth into potential lifelong customers. As a debut feature, Super Size Me proves that Spurlock has potential as a filmmaker. The larger question is whether he'll offer less gimmicky but equally hard-hitting fare for his next feature.

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