Dir: Morgan Spurlock. US. 2003. 98 mins
Sundance buyers were drawn to this highly entertaining documentary like kids to candy and Big Macs for good reason: director Morgan Spurlock does to McDonalds fast food what Michael Moore did to both General Motors and the National Rifle Association in his canonical documentary blockbusters, Roger And Me and Bowling For Columbine. Audiences will also eat this one up, but they may never look at a quarter-pounder and cheese with quite the same ravenous intent again.
The premise for this documentary competition entry is disarmingly simple and high concept. Over the course of 30 increasingly gut-churning days, Spurlock will wolf down nothing but McDonalds, sampling the entire menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If any branch offers to 'super-size' the portions, Spurlock has no choice but to submit, cramming these giant helpings of french fries, burgers and half-gallon beverages down his throat - even if they spew up again immediately.
Sure enough, this high fat-and-sugar binge takes its toll on his body and psyche with a speed that startles even his team of head-shaking doctors and nutritionists. He piles on the pounds, becomes lethargic, gets headaches, loses his sexual vigour and sees his inner organs becomes dangerously punished. As one medical expert puts it, it's as if Spurlock has become the Nicolas Cage character in Leaving Las Vegas, replacing alcohol with this toxic overload of calories. And that's just after twenty-one days on this addictive diet from hell.
Like Michael Moore's mischievous everyman persona, Spurlock makes for a very appealing victim and sustains the viewing interest long enough to digest the welter of worrying statistics that are thrown the audience's way. That Spurlock's New York girlfriend should just happen to be a vegan only serves to amp up the humour and horrors that come with this Mac Attack.
Spurlock's mocking running commentary never stoops to preaching the evils of fast food. Through a combination of interviews, cheeky graphics and a gleeful choice music that runs from Queen's Fat Bottomed Girls to a classical waltz as accompaniment for a graphic stomach-stapling operation, he makes his points with amusing clarity. One of the more telling episodes shows how one high-school in Wisconsin was able to transform its troublesome students into more attentive classrooms by simply replacing its generic fast food menus with a more nutritious one - at no extra cost.
With the Golden Arches one of the most recognisable marketing beacons on the planet, this personal investigation into the harmful side-effects of fast food cannot fail to resonate beyond America, where obesity has reached pandemic proportions and is now in danger of overtaking smoking as the number one cause of preventable deaths.
The one pause for thought is McDonald's very own power: with a global advertising budget of $1.4bn, a fair chunk of which is spent on marketing tie-ins with Hollywood family movies, this giant could certainly make life uncomfortably for any studio conglomerate that distributes the film. And litigation remains an issue in countries where libel laws are not so lenient on journalistic and educational fair use as they are for the constitutionally-protected US media.
Spurlock is unable to get an interview with the chief executive of McDonalds, or even a statement from a company spokesman, despite endless documented attempts to secure its side of the story. No doubt that response will come once the Super Size Me reaches wider public circulation and media attention. At that point, any attempt at legal action, will probably only backfire on McDonalds and serve to fatten the film's box office appeal that much further.
Prod cos: The Con, Studio On Hudson
Int'l sales: Josh Braun, Cinetic Media
Producer: Morgan Spurlock
Cinematographer: Scott Ambrozy
Editors: Stela Gueorguieva, Bob Lombardi
Art director: Joe the Artist
Production Manager: Dave Pederson