(es) wrote: Cinema is full of food-related scenes which are guaranteed to turn one's stomach. We have La Grande Bouffe, in which rich people eat themselves to death; Peter Greenaway turning cannibalism into an art form with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; and the famously gross Mr. Creosote sequence from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. And then there is Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's appropriately queasy debut documentary. Super Size Me follows Spurlock as he attempts to survive on nothing but McDonalds for an entire month. The rules are simple: he must eat three meals a day, he can only eat what is offered at McDonalds, he must try everything on the menu at least once, and he must answer "yes" if they offer him a super-size meal. In between tackling his alarming diet, Spurlock is closely monitored by a small army of doctors, and the only exercise he undertakes is walking the same daily distance as an average American. Although it's an intensely personal, first-person documentary, the film has none of the self-obsession or navel-gazing which has dogged Michael Moore or late-period Nick Broomfield. For starters, Spurlock is a lot more likeable than either of these: we don't just enjoy his company, we get the impression that the film crew did as well. He is populist, rational and refreshingly self-effacing, in complete contrast to Moore who, in the words of Mark Kermode, seems mainly concerned with inflating his own ego. Furthermore, Spurlock is pursuing a subject matter of great importance but getting under the surface with a bigger intention than scoring political points. Where Fahrenheit 9/11 frequently went off the boil for the sake of making Moore look good, Super Size Me keeps its eyes on the prize, being reasonably thorough and comprehensive in its investigations. In one of its best moments, Spurlock gets under the skin of a spokesman from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, getting him to admit that the lobbyists which he represents are part of the problem in the State-side obesity epidemic. Like the films listed in the opening paragraph of this review, there are a number of scenes in Super Size Me which make you want to throw up. On Day 2 of the challenge, Spurlock orders a Big Mac and vomits it up in the car park. The camera looks away as he does it, but then shows the horrid yellow mess left on the tarmac. Equally disgusting are the close-ups of the food before it enters his stomach; suffice to say, it's nothing like the pictures. Worst of all, about halfway through we get to witness keyhole surgery on a gastric band operation, set to the main theme from The Blue Danube. Critics of Super Size Me have pointed to these scenes as evidence of the film's partisan approach. Their argument goes that since Spurlock didn't test other restaurants or brands of fast food, he has a particular grudge against McDonalds and is using the film as a form of propaganda. The camera's lingering on Spurlock's discomfort, or his claims about his sex life suffering, are means of manipulating people into boycotting one company, rather than exposing deeper truths about the industry as a whole. While the documentary may paint a far-from-rosy picture of McDonalds, such criticisms are unduly harsh. Spurlock makes clear from the start that this is not a clinical trial or a hard scientific experiment. He chose McDonalds for the reason that it has the most outlets across America, with the largest number of customers, and therefore would provide a more representative sample than a study of any other single chain. The evidence produced by Spurlock is pretty conclusive but not medically binding, which makes it all the more extraordinary when we discover in the epilogue that McDonalds has withdrawn its Super Size options. The documentary is very even-handed in a number of points that it makes. At one of the schools examined in the film, the students are given a presentation by Jared Fogle, who lost a large amount of weight by eating Subway sandwiches (supposedly). The crew then interview a teenage girl who admires what Fogle has done, but who cannot afford to eat Subway three times a day. The positive goals which celebrities like Fogle are setting are as unhealthily unrealistic as the impossibly airbrushed bodies of girls in magazines. In terms of self-esteem among teenagers, role models of any kind are portrayed as doing more harm than good, at least in regard to this industry. Super Size Me identifies three key areas in which there has been neglect, ignorance or cynical foul play with regards to the consumption of fast food. The first, unsurprisingly, is with McDonalds itself. Spurlock sheds light on the immense amount of money spent on advertising, which far exceeds the national budget for promoting healthy eating. The prevalence of TV advertising means that no parent, no matter how responsible, can guarantee their child isn't being poorly influenced, and individual McDonalds chains (at the time of making the film) are not displaying adequate levels of information about the nutrition content of their meals. The second area which has fallen short is the American government. More recent documentaries such as Waiting for Superman have detailed the years of neglect and underfunding in the American state school system in a much more thorough and comprehensive way. But Super Size Me does show how the use of outside food contractors to provide school meals has led to a race to the bottom, in terms of price and in terms of quality. So much of the food served in schools requires no preparation other than reheating, and because the choices are limited children are brought up to accept nothing better, let alone healthier. But thirdly, Super Size Me has the balls to point the finger at the individuals who consume McDonalds so frequently. Having made a very solid case against fast food companies and lobbyists, and spoken about the frightening extent of fast food advertising, the film concludes by saying that it's as much down to us not making the effort as it is the society in which we are constantly exposed to such food. This might seem like a cop-out, considering how much righteous anger the film generates through its arguments against the industry and the power it wields. But it is refreshing that a documentary has the balls to 'blame' the public without overly guilt-tripping them in the process. On top of everything else, Super Size Me is a very entertaining piece of work. As well as making you feel angry or sick, there are at least as many moments in the film which will provoke laughter. Hearing Spurlock's girlfriend talk about their disappointing sex life is hilarious; she comments, for instance, about how she always has to be on top since he started his diet. On the day that we see him throw up, Spurlock cracks jokes about the side effects of fast food on his system, muttering about "Mc-twitches" in his arm and other such complaints. Such scenes are pleasant interludes which make the experience more bearable, and counteract any negative feelings we may have - for instance, the urge to shout at Spurlock to stop it, lest he should kill himself. Super Size Me is a very good example of populist documentary filmmaking which is a good balance of entertainment and information. Its impact will be greater the less one knows about fast food in general or McDonalds in particular, and many may be bothered that it doesn't go into enough detail when it needs to. But as an introduction to a subject which many have barely considered, it is both admirable and successful.