The Little Documentary That Could
How Morgan Spurlock's 'Super Size Me' took a giant bite out of the fast-food industry
[Ed. note: Parts of this interview have been taken from "I'm Not Really Lovin' It: Morgan Spurlock and Super Size Me," Austin Chronicle daily, March 19.] Don't know if you've had a chance to collect on McDonald's new "Smile Guarantee" yet, where any server who shortchanges you a smile owes you a free side of fries, but now's a good time to start. There are about to be a lot more frowns around your friendly neighborhood Mickey D's. Actually, the headache began back in January, when a little movie called Super Size Me struck Sundance, and it threatens to spread throughout the fast-food industry.
"The film is an indictment of fast-food culture," says director Morgan Spurlock, "and it's not just the Burger Kings and McDonald's that are a part of this. It's the Outbacks and Applebee's and Olive Gardens. It's the places where people think they're getting a better meal, but the portions are so big and so rich and so chock-full of fat that they aren't really realizing what they're getting." To prove just how dangerous fast food can be to the human body, Spurlock set out to eat nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days straight. In that time, he would sample everything on the menu, from Happy Meals to the mysterious McRib, and any time a server invited him to super-size his meal, he had to accept their challenge.
But Spurlock's documentary doesn't content itself with recording his rapid deterioration from a svelte thirtysomething to a doughy manic-depressive with a liver on red alert. When he's not stuffing his face with french fries and soda, Spurlock travels the country, taking a closer look at our nation's eating habits, from the kitchens of high-school cafeterias to the operating tables of gastric-bypass patients. Spurlock's a disarming and likable guy, a sort of Michael Moore-lite. Like the Bowling for Columbine director, he wins us over with his ordinary-guy routine, but he spares us Moore's pushy political grandstanding. Instead, he entertains us into awareness, and part of the movie's appeal is that anyone could have made it. And yet, only Spurlock had the nerve to put his own health on the line to explore a problem that extends well beyond the McDonald's franchises.
In a country with a $110-billion fast-food industry, 60% of the population is overweight or obese. Even amid the current carb craze, your average American is blooming oblivious about what he eats. "We'll go to an Outback Steakhouse, where we feel like we're getting a better meal than at a fast-food place, and we'll split a 'blooming onion' for an appetizer," Spurlock says. "So just right there, before we've even had anything else in our meal, we've already eaten more than 2,000 calories. For me, that's the bigger examination of the film: People don't realize what they're taking in and what impact that's having on their bodies."
Super Size Me, which screened as part of SXSW Film 04, opens in Austin on Friday, May 14. For a review and showtimes, see Film listings, p.86.