Super Size Me

May 19, 2004 at 12:00 am

You may not know this, but eating at McDonald’s three times a day for a month is not good for your health. You’ll get fat and depressed and lethargic, not to mention impotent and just plain cranky. Your liver will rot, your cholesterol levels will skyrocket and you’ll wake up in the middle of the night with chest pains, short of breath and panicked. Who would have thought such damage could be incurred with the healthful, beyond-nutritious options that the McDonald’s fast food empire offers the world?

Pardon the sarcasm, but the major gag (pun intended) of Super Size Me is contrived, logically flawed and heavily leaning in the direction of those who wish to assign victim status to those in our society too dumb, too lazy or too shallow to take responsibility for themselves and their children. Despite the fact that its central thesis rubbed my libertarian sensibilities raw, it is an extremely entertaining, endlessly charming and inventive film that I recommend with gusto!

New York filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s documentary sets out to explore why Americans are such lazy fat-asses. Statistics fly at you in rapid, MTV fashion. Sixty percent of Americans are overweight. Childhood obesity is at record levels, leading to alarming rates of diabetes and other nutrition-related illness. One in four Americans eats at a fast food restaurant every day. There are 83 McDonald’s on the island of Manhattan alone.

Ergo …

McDonald’s is a major contributor to obesity in America.

Call the lawyers!

Spurlock does bring on the lawyers, to very humorous effect. He talks to one attorney who is representing two 14-year-old girls suing the Golden Arches because they feel the fast food chain is responsible for their gross obesity; one of the girls weighs in at 170 pounds. When asked why he took the case, the lawyer asks, “Do you mean beyond the monetary ones?” It’s a pithy, revealing moment; the film is loaded with them.

Spurlock, a healthy man in his 30s, decides to play guinea pig, choosing a diet strictly limited to the McDonald’s menu. He’s going to measure the effects on every aspect of his well-being, physical and psychological.

Following certain parameters, he can eat food from McDonald’s and only from McDonald’s for the whole month. He must eat three meals a day. He must “super size” if asked to do so by the cashier.

Along the way, Spurlock examines school lunch programs. He talks to a man about to undergo gastric bypass surgery. He constantly consoles his loved ones who become increasingly concerned about his deteriorating health as the experiment rolls on, including his vegan girlfriend, who never misses a chance to proclaim the sheer evilness of the individuals responsible for Spurlock’s growing belly and shrinking penis.

The man’s physical well-being is measured throughout the month by a cadre of physicians and a nutritionist, each shocked (shocked!) that his vital signs and organs are screaming for him to stop. One doc describes the damage Spurlock has inflicted on his liver as comparable to what hard-core alcoholics experience.

The alcoholic reference is especially interesting in light of what another physician, an addiction specialist, says in explaining why all those fries and burgers and Cokes are so damn appealing. The cheese itself has compounds that affect the brain the same way heroin does. Yikes! You can get seriously hooked on this shit!

Super Size Me, which gained Spurlock the Directors Award at the Sundance Film Festival last year, masterfully lampoons our reliance on the unholy grub with a skilled and deft hand. It bursts with color thanks to some incredible, surreal paintings by a man obsessed with the strip-mall landscape, fast food joints shining like toys.

Spurlock maintains a strange, dramatic tension throughout his film. We all wait for his liver to explode. From rectal exam to puking his guts out in a Mickey D parking lot after a Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese to watching his eyes glaze over with a glutton’s dull visage, there are plenty of visual treats and cogent lessons for a country which long ago stopped listening to Momma’s advice: Eat your goddamn vegetables! Quit drinking all that pop! Go out and play, you good-for-nothing layabouts!

Ah. Fuck it.

Call the lawyers.


Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-263-2111.

Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].