Only on rare occasions should documentary filmmaking vary from the truth. Super Size Me is not such an instance, where drifting from reality should be tolerated. F for Fake, yes, that gets a free pass. Orson Welles crafted something that transcended typical genre expectations, yet fell perfectly into the embrace of core documentary values. He did not, however, cram his mouth and mind full of fast food. Morgan Spurlock’s hit piece on a fast-food chain is an odd one, shown to children of all ages up and down the country. Or, at least, it was when I was growing up in the terrifying world. Parents and teachers were scared of the McDonald’s effect, whatever that was.
Presumably, it was the fear that they would be splashing the cash on Happy Meal after Happy Meal. Arbitrary rules are set out to make this more an endurance test than a scientific experiment. If someone is full halfway through a meal, surely, they would stop? But Spurlock, dedicated to the cause, pushes through. His experiments depend on someone who is physically unable to stop eating when they feel they’ve had enough. It is one of the many flaws found in his documentary making. There is a reason he fell off the map so soon after this piece. His ideas are sound, but in practice they are disastrous. He enters into these documentaries with the answer already provided, and he hopes to prove that, rather than seek out an alternative that lingers in the background.
When Spurlock steps off of the soapbox and regales us with details of portion control and corporate responsibility, Super Size Me manages some interesting moments, but suffering through Spurlock hurling up, chowing down and indulging in greasy goods is too tough to handle. As he admits at the end of the documentary, he consumes eight years’ worth of McDonald’s food in just thirty days. No sane soul would eat these items three times a day, seven days a week. His experiment takes us to an extreme very few would ever consider. The one man he finds, who eats a Big Mac every day, is thin and seems healthy enough. We are creatures of comfort, but we also love variety. There is a reason so many brands and chains have opened up, for we would not enjoy eating the same product over and over. Vox pops pave the way into that thought process, but shy away from really taking it too far.
Watching this with a brain that is nearly fully developed is insufferable. The appeal of watching this at a young age is there, for sure. “America has now become the fattest nation in the world,” comments Spurlock. Is that the sole fault of McDonald’s? Not likely, no. Super Size Me has a handful of interesting moments, but they are used for the wrong reasons. Cut down on fast food, make it a rarity rather than a staple. Can we blame the Golden Arches for being so enticing? Not really. It is not their job to moderate what people cram down their gullets, but Spurlock ascertains such a thought process, using shoddy whataboutism and poorly-planned experiments. Don’t eat at McDonald’s every day. Hell, don’t eat fast food every day. A balanced diet is a perfect diet. Spurlock talking down to audiences will not make them realise that. All we realise is that Spurlock is as sloppy an eater as he is a documentarian.