WRITTEN BY, DIRECTED BY AND STARRING
Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn
I tried, but I just couldn't resist. I left the theatre after having watched Morgan Spurlock's acclaimed documentary in which he ate nothing but a McDonald's diet for 30 days and I went immediately to the McDonald's across the street and ordered a Big Mac Value Meal. No, I did not supersize it.
Spurlock won the Director's Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, and this documentary was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Indeed, it is a captivating, occasionally insightful and nearly always entertaining look at America's fast food culture, McDonald's and Spurlock's own fast food experiment.
First, the experiment. Some have bashed it as dramatic for the sake of filmmaking. Spurlock acknowledges it is unrealistic in its essence in the film, by basically saying that in one month he is eating as much fast food as nutrition experts recommend in 8 years. Yet, he chooses to take a dramatic approach in order to make a dramatic point. By the end of the film, when one looks at his 25 pound weight gain in one month, his tremendously escalated cholesterol level and other abnormal labs one can't help but see a dramatic point about the impact of fast food on the body. Yes, it's an extreme experiment...yet, it makes an effective, factual point. It is also important to note that the film includes a considerable amount of material not related to Spurlock's experiment, including a look at healthcare, school lunches, national policy and the politics of nutrition.
My problems with the documentary are as follows:
First, too often it appears to attack only McDonald's. Yes, I know it is a McDonald's experiment...yes, I know they are the biggest in terms of fast food...These things can be said, acknowledged, even shown....yet, by the end of the film it almost becomes histrionic in its approach to McDonald's bashing. Between scene graphics feature the familiar McDonald's colors with various derogatory and negative visuals. I understand the point, but it's simply overkill.
Secondly, Spurlock is simply too extreme in his approach. Beyond the obvious "drama" of eating every meal at McDonald's for a month, Spurlock typically orders the most extreme meals and then complains because they are so heavy. The simple fact was he could have chosen to eat differently. He only supersized when asked, but do you really have to supersize when you order the double quarter-pounder with cheese? geez. Once again, it's overkill. For me, it takes away from his point. I was also bothered by the abrupt nature of this change...It's obvious he ate a fairly healthy diet prior to this experiment, and has a vegan chef as a girlfriend. Suddenly switching to this diet is definitely going to make a person sick, but he plays it up like it's the fault of McDonald's.
Finally, Spurlock tends to over-emote at times. It's almost like he's trying to dramatize the impact of this food on his system. It doesn't work for me. I also was troubled by his repeated shots of fat people in a judgmental manner...it began to border on mean-spiritedness...especially in his school shots.
There are lots of positives here, not the least of which is the information and experiment itself. In fact, Spurlock's girlfriend is quite the find...her presence on screen is authentic, honest and funny. Her discussion about the impact of fast food on sex was frank and funny but would also make any guy go "whoa!"
Additionally, several of the street interviews were powerful and funny...and Spurlock himself was charming. Though, I thought the gratuitous butt shot for a rectal exam early on was pointless...and his final weigh in in Speedos was just plain stupid.
Overall, the film addresses an important issue...it does so relatively effectively and in a straightforward manner. It is worth seeing, however, I'd love to see a fresh documentary with a less McDonald's focused approach, more balanced information, less drama and not so extreme. I think McDonald's is safe...this film sure didn't change my mind.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic