The Frying Game
DIRECTED BY Morgan Spurlock
STARRING Morgan Spurlock Opens September 10, Cert 12A, 98 mins
This has been the year of the documentary, with Fahrenheit 9/11, Capturing The Friedmans, Bus 174, The Fog Of War and Control Room stealing thunder and prestige away from Hollywood's traditional output. Now add to that list Super Size Me—New York film-maker Morgan Spurlock's award-winning assault on America's fast-food culture.
Prompted by a lawsuit launched against the Golden Arches by two overweight teenage girls, on the grounds that eating McDonald's was the cause of their obesity, Spurlock undertook to eat a McDonald's-only diet for a month—three square meals a day ordered from their menu, with a stipulation that he had to accept any offer of the mega Super Size option.
Before starting his mischievous experiment, Spurlock—whose girlfriend, a professional vegan chef, clearly considered the project to be dangerous lunacy—had himself checked out by a team of medics, scoring well on blood pressure, cholesterol count and heart-rate. Although his doctors counselled against the McDonald's binge, no one could foresee the speed and scale of its negative effects. Shockingly, Spurlock gained 10lb within five days, and began to suffer chest pains, palpitations and headaches. His cholesterol boomed, and his blood pressure could have landed the starring role in The China Syndrome. His horrified GP discovered that Spurlock's liver, inundated by the onslaught of sugar and fat, was turning to pâté.
It's terrifying stuff, and though the McDonald's corporation subsequently accused Spurlock of gimmickry and perpetrating "a super-sized distortion of the quality, choice and variety available" at their restaurants, it's his direct-action approach and unswerving willingness to put himself through his McOrdeal while recording every detail that makes Super Size Me such gripping viewing. Spurlock throwing up after an especially gross pig-out, Spurlock suffering depression and withdrawal in between Mac-fixes, Spurlock being chided by his partner for his waning sex drive—there's never been a more graphic examination of the notion that 'you are what you eat'. Spurlock himself admits that not even the most ardent McDonald's fan is likely to subject themselves to such a stupefying glut of their favourite product, but vast numbers of Americans exist on an exclusively fast-food diet— even if they do mix up their Big Macs with a little KFC or a towering stack of IHOP pancakes—and the waddling, trouser-bursting, super-fat American has become an internationally recognised symbol of the Land Of The Free.
The affable Spurlock has constructed his film around his own guinea-pig experience, but he makes room to broaden his focus into a survey of the way bad food and dietary ignorance aren't just symptoms of a temporary epidemic, but have become built into America's national fabric. He travels across the States, visiting schools where kids are fed high-fat, ultra-salty diets that make health problems inevitable, and examines the way McDonald's insinuate themselves between the crazy paving of middle America by luring kids into their restaurants with giveaway toys and product-boosting playgrounds. Grotesque portions (a Super Size drink contains 36 teaspoons of sugar) have become so much the norm that automobile manufacturers now install Super Size cup-holders in their vehicles. As a catalogue of corporate encroachment, the film is reminiscent of the way tobacco conglomerates find ever more inventive methods of disguising their products as indispensable components in the life of the unsuspecting average citizen.
McDonald's chose not to pursue Spurlock through the courts, and have even announced the withdrawal of their range of Super Size portions. A spokesperson explained the decision was part of a "balanced lifestyle strategy". But you have to figure that some bold, buccaneering film-making played its part too.
Rating: 4 / 10