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Super Size Me (2004)

A film of epic portions.

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 96 minutes

US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 12a

If Michael Moore has put do-it-yourself agitprop documentaries on the map, then Morgan Spurlock has put them on the menu. Inspired by a lawsuit brought (unsuccessfully) by two obese girls against McDonald’s “for selling food that most of us know isn’t good for us anyway”, Spurlock’s ‘Super Size Me’ is a feature-length onslaught on the fast food industry in general and corporate bigboy McDonald’s in particular, arguing that their pernicious stranglehold over the (ill) health of US citizens is comparable to that of the tobacco industry in the previous century.

While the trademark stunts which Michael Moore pulls in his films (like in Fahrenheit 9/11 when he asks passing US Congressmen to sign up their own children for combat in Iraq) can certainly be entertaining, to my mind they represent him at his weakest and most simplistic – but Spurlock manages to structure his entire film around an ingenious gimmick which, although big and dumb, proves to be an undeniably compelling illustration of his point. Playing the guinea pig in a bizarre experiment designed to test claims made by McDonald’s about the nutritional value of their meals, Spurlock subjects himself to a month-long régime in which he consumes only food and drink available from McDonald’s, three times per day, while he, his horrified vegan girlfriend Alex, and a team of doctors, all monitor the staggering deterioration of his life, libido and health. Spurlock may seem to be telling us only what we already know, but for all its apparent obviousness, Spurlock’s point is well worth making. Few may honestly believe that mass-produced burgers and fries are actually good for you, but McDonald’s repeatedly insists that they are (and even the doctors seem genuinely surprised just how life-threateningly bad the all-junkfood diet turns out to be) – and in case you imagine that no-one besides mad documentary makers actually eats McDonald’s every day, McDonald’s actually has its own special label (the ‘super heavy user’) and business strategy for such valued customers.

As the side-order to this 30-day journey into bloat, impotence and liver damage, there are plenty of factual nuggets concerning the food lobby, dietary health, increasing portion sizes, advertising, food addiction, school canteens, fitness programmes, weight-loss fads and radical surgery, all pointing towards a ruthless industry that cares far more about fattening its own profits than contributing to the balanced nutrition of its customers. Spurlock’s supersized charm makes this detail-rich diet very easy to swallow – and seeing him literally ram the argument down his own throat is enough to make anyone think twice about buying a burger on the way home.

Recently, the documentary film has become one of the only mainstream outlets for alternative voices in America, be they against the gun lobby (‘Bowling for Columbine’), or the so-called War on Terror (‘Fahrenheit 9/11‘), or Rupert Murdoch’s self-interested distortion of news events (‘Outfoxed’), or conversely in defence of the Arabic news network al Jazeera (‘Control Room’). Television networks would not dare commission a documentary like ‘Super Size Me’ for fear of upsetting their corporate sponsors, and even the big movie studios would be likely to shy away from anything which might jeopardise their special tie-in deals with the fast food companies – but ‘Super Size Me’ was self-financed and self-produced, and the buzz it created at various festivals (starting with Sundance, where it won the award for Best Director) has guaranteed it a wider public release. By turns funny, sickening and alarming, this should be seen by anyone interested in what they eat – just go easy on the popcorn and soda.

See also Review of Super Size Me by Gary Panton

It's Got: Cynical lawyers, alarmed doctors, a horrified (and sex-starved) vegan, a diet from hell - and a group of first graders who mistake an image of Jesus for George W. Bush ("thats a good guess" comments Spurlock) but who have no such difficulty recognising Ronald McDonald.

It Needs: To eat less and exercise.


Spurlock's supersized charm makes this detail-rich anti-corporate 'diet-ribe' very easy to swallow.