Super Size Me

English Title: Super Size Me

Country of Origin: USA

Director: Morgan Spurlock

Producer(s): Morgan Spurlock

Screenplay: Morgan Spurlock

Cinematographer: Scott Ambrozy

Editor: Stela Georgieva, Julie Bob Lombardi

Runtime: 100 minutes

Language: English

Starring/Cast: Lisa Ganjhu, Daryl M Isaacs MD, Alexandra Jamieson, Eric Rowley, Steven Siegel MD, Morgan Spurlock

Year: 2004

Volume: American - Independent

Intrigued by the burgeoning waistlines of the average American and a lawsuit brought against McDonald’s by two overweight girls, film-maker Morgan Spurlock decides to try only eating food from McDonald’s, three times a day for a month, to experience the effect on his own physiognomy. As well as his diet regime, Spurlock also reduces his regular exercise so that it is the same as that of the ‘average’ American’ and, when offered ‘Super Size’ meals at the counter, he decides to always eat these (nine in total) when they are suggested. During the experiment, Spurlock has his health monitored by various doctors about the effect it is having on his body, and he also interviews a variety of pundits and laypeople about various issues such as the advertising of junk food, the nutrition of school children and whether junk food is addictive. The physiological effects on Spurlock are varied and extreme, from vomiting on the second day of the experiment to heart palpitations, lethargy and depression. During the making of the film, the court case taken by the overweight girls is thrown out and the centre where Spurlock has been taking nutritional advice closes down. At the end of the experiment, Spurlock has gained 24.5 lbs and his liver is exhibiting signs of abuse similar to those found in the body of an alcoholic.

Part of the mini-wave of stunt-laden documentaries that came out in the early 2000s, accompanied by Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), Super Size Me takes a relatively-serious issue and plays it for shock-comedy effect. Like Michael Moore, director Morgan Spurlock is manipulative and populist but, as he abuses his own body in the making of the film, it does lead to footage that is riveting, if prurient, to watch. While Spurlock gives his experiment the veneer of respectability by having doctors monitor his condition, the experience is intended to make the audience sympathize with his plight, as it is being done for the common good. Spurlock says he must eat every item from the McDonald’s menu but the lion’s share of his consumption is shown to be burgers when he could choose to alternate between their salad range and their fried food. That said, the documentary does show that the salads are as calorific as the burgers, however, and whether Spurlock’s reliance on burgers is meant to be indicative of the average visitor’s buying habits, we do not know.

Spurlock is unable to find nutritional information in many of the McDonald’s branches he visits in Manhattan and this is perhaps more unsettling than the revelation that McDonald’s food is bad for you. Certainly the advertising figures quoted in the film are sobering, as is the proliferation of junk food in American schools, but for every animated sequence that gets simple ideas across, greater depth to the connection intimated between lack of intelligence and poor diet would have been appreciated. At least there is a shorter edit (presumably without the swearing, vomiting and gastric-bypass footage designed to appeal to the ‘gross out’ crowd) that is being distributed to schools but, in terms of cinematic spectacle, this is a film more akin to a Farrelly Brothers’ film than a documentary like Black Gold (2006), which looked at the proliferation of Starbucks and the impoverishment of coffee farmers. Occasionally there are great sequences that speak for themselves, like the girl who has been brainwashed by rhetoric and advertising to believe that eating at Subway will help her lose weight, but scenes that let you think for yourself are few and far between. Spurlock is to be commended for bringing the issue to greater attention – certainly McDonald’s dropped the Super Size option after the documentary came out and were so concerned about the effects of the film they launched a counter-argumentative website in the UK during the cinema release – but it is his broad and unsubtle American huckster style that makes the viewer feel as queasy watching the film as Spurlock himself undoubtedly did eating the products.

Author of this review: Alex Fitch