It isn’t very often that a movie physically affects how I feel while watching it. During the last half hour of “Titanic,” I started shivering because I got so cold. While watching Gaspar Noe’s shocking “I Stand Alone,” my stomach was knotted in anticipation of whatever horrible scene was coming next. During director/star Morgan Spurlock’s new expose of fast food culture and the current U.S. obesity crisis, “Super Size Me,” my stomach hurt for a different reason altogether.
To say that “Super Size Me” is similar to a Michael Moore-style documentary would be an understatement. Following the release of Moore’s first documentary, 1989’s unexpected success “Roger & Me,” the documentary filmmaking world was turned on its ear. Never before had a documentary used its director as a focal point so often, and so irreverently, to get its point across. Purists argued that the movie was too biased, but its argument was convincing, and it broke box office records for documentaries. Most of all, it was immensely entertaining.
With the Oscar-winning “Bowling for Columbine” under his belt and the Cannes Film Festival’s Palm D’Or going to Moore for “Fahrenheit 9/11,” it’s clear that this brand of filmmaking has now been accepted. Along comes Morgan Spurlock, an everyman with less of a political agenda than Moore, who is spurred into action by a recent lawsuit where the plaintiffs sued McDonald’s for millions of dollars, accusing the fast food chain of causing their obesity.
The judge ruled that the case is only admissible if the plaintiffs can prove that McDonald’s had meant for them to eat their food every day, and for all meals. Spurlock wondered what would happen if someone was to do just that for a month, and decided that he would be the guinea pig. And so begins the dangerous stunt at the heart of the film. In between scenes of the affable director ordering and eating at America’s favorite burger joint three times daily, he presents some interesting, if non-shocking, facts about our addiction to fast food.
Two things separate Spurlock from Moore. Moore certainly has that blue-collar approach that is easy for a non-documentary crowd to relate to, but Spurlock comes off less judgmental. In “Bowling for Columbine,” Moore places a photo (and thus some of the blame) of a young girl accidentally shot by another child in former NRA president Charlton Heston’s house. It’s a bold and polarizing scene that doesn’t work for everybody. Spurlock, on the other hand, actually admits to liking the taste of McDonald’s burgers, and leaves the hard-hitting talk to his interviewees, like health food advocates and the former Attorney General. “Super Size Me” does some finger-pointing and corporation-baiting, but it’s pretty tame stuff.
And that’s the problem with most of the movie. Spurlock doesn’t have quite the satirical knack or wit of Moore. He may be tackling a seemingly less serious subject than guns, job losses or war, but he never fully commits to the weight (no pun intended) of his subject matter. “Super Size Me” just doesn’t contain the kind of anarchic bewilderment that Moore achieves. There’s nothing that truly shocks or amazes, and it’s just not as funny as it should be.
This is where the part about me being physically affected comes in, though. “Super Size Me” works, especially on someone like me, whom McDonald’s would characterize as “repeat business.” I eat fast food at least three to four times a week, sometimes more. Not only does it fit my busy schedule, but I think most of it, especially Taco Bell, tastes pretty damn good. But after watching the movie’s barrage of overweight people and super-sized portions, it began to take its toll. Watching Spurlock stuff himself with a Double Quarter Pounder and immediately throw it up didn’t help either.
My stomach ached throughout the last half of this movie. The cartoon of how Chicken McNuggets are made still scares me. I kept reminding myself of the health risks involved in this kind of diet and of the bloated feeling I experienced while watching “Super Size Me.” I convinced myself to cut down on soda, and to cut way back on my weekly fast food intake. Like I said, it was only the third movie I’ve ever seen to affect me physically. And it was because of the images in the film that I just felt gross walking out of the theater that day. Either that, or it was the large Coke and gigantic tub of artificially buttered popcorn that I chowed down on with my friends.