By Alan Scherstuhl
By Michael Atkinson
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Abby Garnett
By Amy Nicholson
By Alan Scherstuhl
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Spurlock's grotesque deep-fried experiment, during which he had to eat everything on the menu at least once, came about after he read a newspaper story in which two obese women sued McDonald's for making them fat. His interest became an obsession, which became a documentary, Super Size Me, in which Spurlock reveals how quickly the body crumbles when exposed to such a horrific diet. The documentary has become the Bowling for Columbine for dietitians, scientists and tofu-eaters appalled by the binge-and-splurge habits of Americans -- and it may well have been the reason a shamed McDonald's recently excised the super-sizing option from its menus, though the chain would deny such a claim.
Super Size Me is as enormously entertaining as it is appalling; Spurlock loves to torture himself to prove his point, and he digs on revealing to us just how frightening the effects of too much of this food can be. He was probably one of those kids who would have eaten anything on a dare -- not only to prove that he could, but also to see the disgusted look on the faces of those who taunted him. He knew it would be awesome to get a multiplex audience to watch him vomit a Big Mac; he looks almost delighted by the result, the same way Jackass's Steve-O looks when he's shooting firecrackers out of his ass. It's a stunt -- a stunt with a message, sure, but a stunt nonetheless, something intended to shock and aww-dude the audience, to whom he ultimately preaches his message of better living through organic vegetables and whole grains.
The movie was a big hit at Sundance and beyond; it's turned Spurlock, an aspiring filmmaker and graphic designer, into Michael Moore, an agit-prop star proselytizing about the greed of a company that doesn't care about the content or impact of its unhealthy and potentially deadly product. Like Moore, he tries repeatedly to talk to someone at McDonald's corporate headquarters about the nutritional value of its food and of the toll the month-long "diet" has taken on his body. But he's given the brushoff in a game of never-ending phone tag, and it feels like a page lifted from the Moore playbook of how to make a company look decidedly evil. Of course, the only way he'll get ahold of McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo these days is through a medium: Cantalupo died last month of a heart attack at the age of sixty, allegedly from a steady diet of his company's own cheeseburgers.
Spurlock leaves no patty unturned; the accidental muckraker is out for blood, or at least packets of ketchup, documenting everything from how the chain uses its advertisements to sucker in kids to its marketing of salads that are even unhealthier than its burgers. He also visits a school for troubled teens where healthy foods are served that seem to calm the kids -- turns out whole grains and green beans are better for brain and body. Spurlock vows he began without an agenda, but his venom builds as his cholesterol rises; he began the movie admitting a fondness for the occasional Quarter Pounder, but he now swears off everything at McDonald's, save its overpriced bottles of water.
The timing for the movie's release is perfect: The nightly news warns of our obesity and jiggles with the unwelcome sight of America's enormous asses and guts rumbling down sidewalks crowded with our super-sized neighbors. If there's a problem with the movie, it's that it doesn't veer from its predictable course; he didn't expect to get healthier, did he? Actually, there are two problems: After the movie's over, after you've seen two hours of burgers and fries, you may find your car steering for the drive-thru. Then you'll remember the sight of Spurlock losing his lunch, and it's off to Whole Foods you'll go.
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