The Little Documentary That Could

How Morgan Spurlock's 'Super Size Me' took a giant bite out of the fast-food industry

The Little Documentary That Could

[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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Super Size Me
I'm Not Really Lovin' It
I'm Not Really Lovin' It
Morgan Spurlock and 'Super Size Me'

Peter Debruge, March 19, 2004

More Screens
Austin Artist Brings Gamera to Vibrant Life in a New Box Set
Austin Artist Brings Gamera to Vibrant Life in a New Box Set
Matt Frank builds the perfect monster

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 28, 2020

SXSW Film Reviews: 'Plus One'
Daily Reviews and Interviews

Ashley Moreno, March 15, 2013

More by Peter Debruge
Big Fat Independent Movies
Blind Horizon
Sending Off SXSW Film 04

March 26, 2004

Dig Deeper
Dig Deeper
Celebrated Austin author Louis Sachar brings his wacky, wickedly funny children's book 'Holes' to the big screen

April 18, 2003


Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle