Super Size Me was a huge sensation upon its release a couple of years back, yet I never saw it. The movie Fast Food Nation was made on the strength of its success, ironic for the fact that Supersize Me itself was at least partially inspired by the Fast Food Nation book.
This is how you make a film about this topic: you make it interesting. It doesn’t have to necessarily be entertaining – although Super Size Me most definitely is that – but it certainly should not be dull and leaden. Even if you claim that that is “real”, it is not real in the sense of cinema, which demands something.
I thought that it was strange that Channel Ten showed this program after Australian Idol, which is sponsored by McDonald’s. In response to Fast Food Nation, McDonald’s has released a Make Up Your Own Mind ad campaign.
Those wiley McDonald’s fiends have chosen to exercise that campaign during this movie. One of the wisest things that Richard Linklater said when I saw him on Thursday was that McDonald’s would have been wisest not to have brought out a retaliatory campaign at all (although they claim it’s just coincidental).
They needn’t have worried, of course: Super Size Me had the natural appeal that would allow people to actively seek it out. McDonald’s is going to positively pump money into Fast Food Nation, though, and we all know that money could be spent on something far more effective, like bringing the 30 cent cones back to 30 cents.
Super Size Me: ostensibly a documentary about one man (Morgan Spurlock) and his moustache (Morgan Spurlock’s moustache) eating nought but McDonald’s for a month and accepting super sized meals every time that they are offered to him.
Beneath that there is good, inflammatory science. Spurlock narrates his carefully chosen facts and interviews people pertinent to the fast food and health industries as well as your average man on the street (and a French woman who can’t stand American Fast Food but is a big fan of France’s “MacDo”).
Spurlock is certainly charismatic, but the issue is more important than the man. His forays into interviewing people always receive the right responses, despite the occasional and blatant set them ups he devises.
Spurlock can wring drama (diabetic people!) and comedy (freestylin’ McDonald’s lovers!) from the material at hand.
Most distressing for me was when Spurlock interviewed a teenaged girl who had just spoken to the famous Jared of Subway (who looked plainly disinterested in what she was saying – and I can tell this because his method of response was exactly the same as the one I use). This girl was practically in tears telling Spurlock that Jared was able to eat Subway sandwiches twice a day, but she cannot afford that option. She’s tried others and they hurt.
I haven’t seen a Jared ad for a while, but I vaguely recall that they mentioned that Subway wasn’t the only thing that he ever ate. However, and this is a judgement on my part, the willfully ignorant aren’t going to get this message.
I suppose it’s not that girl’s fault, but the fact that she can think of Jared’s salvation as solely subs suggests something about the state of advertising. The South Park episode “Jared Has Aides” is a hilarious statement on this concept but, when confronted with the situation as reality, the situation is hugely depressing.
If one considers Spurlock’s personal experiences as frames for the research parts of the film, then they work well. He is, after all, not just experiencing one of New York’s 83 McDonald’s every day; he traveled across the country to observe regional differences in attitudes towards the food and the serving thereof. Texas lived up to its terrible stereotype of having everything the biggest. Some day thin, moderate Texans will have their time.
For the most part, these “experiment” scenes serve as a direct comparison of Spurlock’s distinct unreality and the day to day life of the people and corporations that he visits. A documentary film maker is never going to have an objectively “normal” life, and Spurlock’s strength is exploiting this idea to present a story that is wider ranging than his own while ensuring that he would be the drawcard for audiences; marketing almost as wiley as that employed by the wicked multi-nationals!
There are some parts of the film that I could have done without: the animated bumpers are poorly done and sometimes excessively vulgar; the camera goes to strange places like Spurlock’s vomit after his first super sized meal and shows in somewhat graphic detail stomach reduction surgery; scenes are sometimes overlaid with gimmicky graphics and sound effects;and, strangest of all, several of the people interviewed are shot in such a way that they look as if they were speaking against a blue screen. It’s not to the extent of The Colbert Report‘s “… so we interviewed him in a hotel room made up to look like a campaign office”, but it was pretty damned close.
What really sold me on the movie, then, was that it concludes with a rap that summarises the movie’s theme, just like classic early nineties movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (not sarcasm; I loved that movie and it holds up to this day) and Repossessed (okay, possibly sarcasm).
Super Size Me is partly a story of a man embarking on a foolish and unrealistic journey and setting people up to answer questions in ways that he deems apt, but it’s also a compelling story of an industry that needed a change despite not being the source of all of the world’s problems.
We never had the Super Size option in Australia, so to me it looked obscene. If Spurlock managed to curb obscenity even slightly, then his mission was accomplished and the world is a safer place.