Super Size Me

It’s a slow time of year for movie fans. The weeks right after the Oscar season and before the summer blockbusters are the time of year when the films that studios suspect are dogs get dumped on the cineplexes. It was so bad that Ebert and Roeper had to show old reviews last week because the studios were so ashamed of their releases they didn’t hold early showings for professional critics. I had hopes for Be Cool, but the early reviews haven’t been promising, and since I’m not a professional, I don’t have to see it if I don’t think I’ll like it.

So, I turn to DVD releases of worthy films that I missed last year.

Super Size Me is a well recognized documentary. It won a award at Sundance and was nominated for an Oscar. Director and star Morgan Spurlock heard that the United States is the fattest nation in the world and he wanted to make a movie about the main culprit for America’s expanding waistlines-fast food. His approach is unique. He conducts an experiment in which he eats nothing but McDonald’s for a whole month. Over that time, he has to have everything on the menu at least once, and if they ask him if he wants to super size his meal, he has to say yes.

I have to admit to a little skepticism about the results. I used to love McDonald’s. The Big Mac was my favorite. But even at the height of my ardor for the special sauce, I’d only eat there once or twice a week. Eventually, I decided that I didn’t like them anymore and I stopped. My theory is that you only have so many Big Macs you can eat. The point is that I can’t imagine anybody eating this stuff all the time.

Of course, some people do; you meet one in the film. That guy was able to eat two or three Big Macs a day and not gain weight or boost his cholesterol. The human body is weird. His case is one reason why this film isn’t entirely convincing.

Spurlock went about this project in a systematic fashion. He put himself under the care of three doctors and a nutritionist and confirmed that he was basically healthy when the experiment began. He also kept track of his intake. But it’s not a true experiment, of course. There’s no control group and one subject is not a large enough sample to draw any conclusions. Spurlock for some physiological reason we don’t understand, might be especially susceptible to high fat, high sugar food.

Which appears to be the case. His reaction is dramatic and alarming. He gains 25 pounds in a month, experiences mood swings, chest pains, and fatigue. His blood chemistry goes so wacky that one of the doctors begs him to call it off two thirds of the way through the month.

And you hope he does, because Spurlock is a likeable guy and you hate to see him suffer. It is the strength of the film. The camera follows him as he drives up to McDonald’s after McDonald’s, eating three meals a day under the golden arches. The ordeal and it is harrowing at times. We care because of his engaging personality. He’s quick with a smart remark and seems intelligent and friendly. But he’s also an everyman. He actually likes most of the food he’s eating, at least at first. There’s a scene where his vegan girlfriend tries to convert him to her side. He resists, admitting that he likes ham too much.

Super Size Me has apparently caused some changes-at least temporarily. McDonald’s has eliminated its super-size option and made a few other changes to its menu. If you see this you might think twice about going into a McDonald’s for awhile. As for me, I don’t go in too often these days. When I’m driving on vacation I’ll go in for an Egg McMuffin.

I don’t think I’ll change that, because those Egg McMuffins are tasty.


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March 2005
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