Super Size Me (2004, Morgan Spurlock)
With this film, Spurlock establishes himself as the heir apparent to Michael Moore. Using humor and a willingness to experiment on himself, Spurlock dishes up a convincing indictment of the fast food industry that made me vow never to eat fast food again.
Spurlock is a healthy, fit New Yorker, dating a vegan chef, who decided after seeing the lawsuits filed by two young girls against McDonald’s to eat only McDonald’s food for one month and document the results. His health was observed by a cardiologist, gastroenterologist, and general practitioner, as well as a nutritionist and his long-suffering girlfriend. Along the way, he interviews people from the fast-food industry, teachers, lawyers, doctors, nutritionists, professors, and the former Surgeon General about the effects fast food has on America.
In addition to eating only McDonald’s, Spurlock cuts down his daily exercise to the amount most Americans get, and gains 10 pounds in a week. His doctors warn him to stop, shocked by the effects on his liver of the food, and he exhibits signs of addiction, feeling miserable until he eats, high when he does eat, and sick afterwards.
He doesn’t attack only McDonald’s. He also spends a good bit of time focusing on school lunches and the junk that kids are fed (mostly behind the excuse of “we educate them to make their own choices!”), and takes us to an alternative school for kids that have been thrown out of public schools, where the students are fed organic, healthy meals–and their behavior drastically improved. A connection between American diets and ADD, perhaps? Maybe we don’t need so many Ritalin prescriptions, just more veggies and less Pepsi?
Advertising is of course a focus of the film. Particularly thought-provoking is a scene, in front of the White House, where a group of people try to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance and cannot do it properly, but when asked, can sing the Big Mac jingle perfectly.
As a documentary, Super Size Me is everything it needs to be: fun, snappy, colorful, well-edited (shots of obese Americans constantly interspersed with everything, reminding us of the problem and making us feel bad for those shown), and Spurlock himself is likable, even more so than Michael Moore. One wonders how he managed not to get sued, since brand names are all over his film, but that’s even more damning–if his evidence is true, it’s not libelous.
Documentaries are becoming hip, partially due, I think, to the current “reality” obsession, but unlike the horrors that reality TV encourages, documentarians actually can change things. After all, soon after Super Size Me debuted at Sundance, McDonald’s announced that they were phasing out the Super Size menu. Coincidence?
Another coincidence – The “Go Active! Adult Happy Meal” was introduced May 5 by McDonalds, and it comes with your very own Stepometer so you too meet their 10,000 step challenge. They even got Oprah’s fitness trainer Bob Greene to help them launch this new McHealthy lifestyle with a 3,000-mile trek. That’s mighty big of them, ain’t it?
Young Adam (2003, David MacKenzie)
I must admit that my interest in this movie started when I heard two things, “Ewan McGregor” and “NC-17.” Ahh, I thought. More lovely Ewan nudity.
Yep, there is that. But no more than in Trainspotting, which didn’t get stuck with an NC-17 despite being more graphic and disturbing in several spots. Once again, I retain my judgment after seeing The Dreamers that Americans have major hang-ups about sex. Not that I didn’t know that already.
Anyway, I’m digressing. Even if you’re not as interested in Ewan’s McGregor as I am, you should still see this movie. Joe (McGregor) is working on a barge when we meet him, and has found the body of a young woman (Emily Mortimer) floating in the river. Ella (Tilda Swinton) and Les (Peter Mullan), the owners of the barge, live simply until Joe arrives and falls into an affair with Ella. To say “seduces” would be too harsh. What follows is a moody portrait of a young man’s attempt to forget the past, and being reminded of it at every turn.
The body floating in the river is a metaphoric as well as a literal reminder of Joe’s history–she was his girlfriend, who supported him while he attempted to write (shades of McGregor’s Moulin Rouge character appearing in these flashbacks). Though the movie is set in the ’50’s, Joe seems like many young men these days: aimless, withdrawn, and using sex rather like a drug. McGregor’s performance is subtle; with the blink of an eye, he changes from a blank canvas to guilt-ridden to a nearly frightening innocence. Fear and laziness are the defining characteristics of this young man, balanced by a simple amorality that keeps one from completely hating him, especially against the backdrop of a murder trial based on next to no evidence and presided over by those who would make sex a crime. Malice doesn’t enter into Joe’s mind, but he sleeps around as if it’s almost too much work to say no to sex, and he avoids responsibility like the plague.
Emily Mortimer is heartbreaking as Cathie, the would-be love of Joe’s life, and fine performances are also handed in by Swinton, Mullan, and Ewan Stewart as the man falsely accused of murder.
The most poignant scenes are the flashbacks with Joe and Cathie, where we see a romance that could have saved Joe, but instead condemns him to his cowardice. He’s not a likable character, but most people will see shades of themselves in him, and that is what makes it moving. I left feeling vaguely dirty, as if I’d done something to feel guilty over. Even if you see this movie for the sex scenes, you may come away thinking about something.