Super Size Me (2004) — Who’s up for Mickey Ds?

“I consumed over thirty pounds of sugar. That’s an average of a pound of sugar a day.”

PoolMan’s rating: It’s been three years and counting since I had a McDonald’s burger. Phew.

PoolMan’s review: Most people are pretty aware of the fact that fast food is probably not the best thing in the world for them to eat. When most people are pressed about their diet and the subject of a place like McDonalds comes up, they usually get embarrassed and downplay exactly how much they eat there… three times a week becomes “Oh, every once in a while.” And then they go for lunch. I’ve been guilty of this before.

So if we all know it’s so bad for us, why do we eat it? Why are one out of every four adult Americans obese? If common sense is so common, how can we lack it this badly?

The point of Super Size Me, a one-man documentary from the brain of one Morgan Spurlock, is to do a deconstructive look at fast food’s place in America while at the same time nearly doing permanent liver damage to himself.

How? Easy! Spurlock decides that for 30 entire days, all he will eat, morning, noon, and night, will be over-the-counter foodstuffs from McDonald’s. The rules are that he has to eat everything on the menu at least once, he has to have three meals a day, and ALL of it has to be available from the regular order menu at Mickey D’s. At separate points he is recommended to take multivitamins and aspirin, but he turns them down because you can’t get them from McD’s. He also later introduces the rule that he’ll super-size his meal ONLY when asked, but EVERY TIME he’s asked, a surprisingly low nine times over the month.

If this makes your skin crawl just to think of, congratulations, you’re perfectly normal. Watching Morgan down burger after burger, bite after bite as his handlebar moustache bobs up and down is just nauseating and compelling at the same time. On the second day of his new “diet”, he meets the Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese (would that be a “double royale?”) meal, and winds up heaving out his car window because it’s just too much food. By the time he’s a couple of weeks in, his buddy, his girlfriend, his dietician, and ALL THREE doctors he’s consulting during this experiment are just begging him to stop.

Meanwhile, Morgan’s on a cross-country tour of the fattest cities and states in America, discussing and examining the fast food industry’s effects on the nation. Covering all bases from advertising to health concerns to government, he gives an interesting and what seems to be relatively impartial report on what he finds. In contrast to the last nationally-famous documentary, Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine, Spurlock never quite crosses that antagonistic line of flat out accusing and finger wagging. Only a couple of times during the movie do you see him put an individual on the spot, and even then he demures into his more natural, charming self rather than torture the poor sod on camera.

That’s probably the biggest difference right there. Morgan comes across as a nice, normal, likeable guy. He is (was) in above average shape, has a good sense of humour, has a supportive girlfriend… he doesn’t come off as a crackpot attacking the Big Mac. Where Moore takes every opportunity to say “shame on you” to whoever he’s trying to shame at any given time, Spurlock just kind of gathers what you hope to be fairly accurate facts, points to them, and leaves it to the audience to draw their own conclusions.

The choice to pair his research on the industry with his own personal experiment on his body is really where the power of the film lies. You can see he feels duty-bound to finish what he starts, even though he puts on nearly 10 pounds in his first week, and 24 pounds over the month. Late in the game he starts getting chest palpatations, trouble breathing, extreme exhaustion, and signs of chemical addiction. His sex drive, his girlfriend assures us, is pretty much shot. And when his doctors get a look at his weekly blood tests and see similar signs of liver damage as that of an alcoholic, you get a real sense of horror from the physician… jeez, can this guy actually even survive this?

People have accused Michael Moore of overdramatizing his findings and research, and of manipulating its presentation to suit his needs. Fair enough, it’s entirely possible, and the man certainly isn’t shy about his biases. While there are a couple of moments here and there in this movie where perhaps it seems like it’s all for show (Morgan looking all over the restaurants for the tough-to-find nutritional info charts, or the “what famous person is this?” card game), it mostly comes off as genuine.

I’m still an admitted newbie to the world of documentaries, but I’m really glad that sometimes they come to the public’s view. Super Size Me is thoughtful, shocking, funny, grotesque, and entirely surprising, especially considering how we all dismiss fast food with so much disdain and common sense.

Right before we go to lunch.

Lissa’s rating: Get me to a Subway!

Lissa’s review: Once upon a time, not so long ago, I was bordering on flat-out fat.

No, I’m not talking about when I was pregnant. I’m talking about a time in grad school, when I was working 60-70 hours a week, living alone, and making about a thousand dollars a month, over half of which went to rent. I also thought I was in desperate need of caffeine (what grad student isn’t?), and lived within easy walking distance of several restaurants. I was a big girl.

Despite that, however, I was dating an absolutely wonderful man who could see past the physical, and he asked me to marry him. Getting engaged was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and I hit Weight Watchers and lost seventy pounds, dropping from somewhere above a size sixteen to a size six and becoming a total convert. Happy ending, right? Well, no. Not completely from the weight perspective.

Keeping weight off has always been a trial for me. I do honestly have a slow metabolism, but beyond that, I have a love for food. I love to cook, I love to eat, and heck, I even like to read about food. Food is a staple in my life, more than it should be. And I’m not always an Epicurean, either. I like bad food (bad food, not bad-for-you food) just as much as good food. Especially McDonalds food.

McDonalds and my family have a history. For the first 14-15 years of my life, my family went there maybe once a month, twice at the most. Then my father was diagnosed with cancer, and we ate out constantly. And even after he passed away, my mom was so busy juggling three teenagers, a job, and trying to keep herself together that cooking kind of dropped in priority. We joked about McDonalds being a “home cooked meal.”

It’s given me a special love for McDonald’s food, and I certainly associate it with comfort. When I was pregnant with the Ducklet, I craved McDonald’s food — not for the nutrition, certainly, like when I craved lemon. (I guess there’s something to the whole “pregnant women craving sour things” that’s about digestion.) It was that I was about to experience this gigantic life change that scared the living daylights out of me, and I needed my security blanket. Thus, McDonalds.

Now, I’m not one of those people that blames the golden arches for all my weight problems. Heck, when I was in grad school, there was a Subway that was even closer to my apartment, and a little grocery store that didn’t have much, but had some fruit, veggies, and meat. The fault was mine, and I’m not denying that. Anyway, it’s not often that a movie changes your life, but Super Size Me helped me do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time — I think I’ve kicked the McDonalds habit. Cold turkey. I just have NO desire to eat there ever again.

As Pooly explained so well, Super Size Me is Morgan Spurlock’s brainchild where he opted to eat McDonald’s food for every meal for 30 days. He has to eat everything on the menu at least once, super size his meal if they ask him to (I was really surprised at how rarely he was asked), and can only eat what they sell at McDonalds.

Yes, the effects that the experiment has on him are scary, but to me, it really wasn’t that shocking. I mean, does it really take a rocket scientist to figure out that fast food is bad for you? (Although I was a little surprised about the liver damage.) Or that we as a culture consume far too much of the stuff? Not really. So while it was rather off-putting to watch what a diet of fast food does to me, it wasn’t what really terrified me. No. What really terrified me was the emphasis that Spurlock put on children.

I came out of watching Super Size Me with three resolutions:

1.) Ducklet is not watching TV with commercials for a long, long, long time.

2.) I am not going to McDonalds with Ducklet EVER.

3.) Ducklet is so going to learn good nutrition (of course, I had this one before, but still).

Admittedly, those resolutions make it sound like Spurlock brainwashed me against the evil that is McDonalds. That’s where I have to take a step back and give Spurlock a little more credit. While McDonalds was the centerpiece of his experiment, he also discussed other factors in our culture that lead to the high rates of obesity we see.

The stat that really got me (and thus led to resolution number 1) was that for a child who watches the average number of television, they will see something like 10,000 ads for sugary foods, sodas, and fast food. If a parent sits down with their child every single meal and makes it a point to make every meal perfectly nutritious, they only have 1,000 opportunities to get through to their child. Now, the scientist in me does argue that stat. Sure, I only have 1,000 meals (give or take) a year, but there are snacks and other opportunities to talk to my children about food. However, talk to a mother whose child doesn’t watch much TV, and she’ll tell you that grocery shopping is infinitely easier than a mother whose child does watch TV will tell you. There’s something to that.

Super Size Me is interesting and informative, but at the same time, it’s also quite entertaining. And that’s important. I mean, what’s the good of making a documentary if no one wants to watch it? Spurlock is charismatic and funny, and while his message is suitably fire-and-brimstone for the diet world, it’s also not “YOU ARE EVIL FOR EATING FAST FOOD!”

If I had my way, Super Size Me would become mandatory viewing in classrooms. Who knows? Maybe one day it will.

Didja notice?

  • They misspelled “Miami” on the map of the USA’s fattest cities.
  • The dietician at Haelth looks like Bridget Fonda.
  • According to the credits, the health effects of Morgan’s one month Mac Attack take 14 months to undo.
  • That one guy really likes the word “hector”
  • Ugh… rectal examination time!
  • For a guy who’s eaten probably 20,000 Big Macs at this point, Gorske looks pretty healthy!

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