At first glance, the prospect of watching a documentary in which the main protagonist (who is also the film’s director, Morgan Spurlock) eats three meals a day for an entire month at McDonald’s sounds decidedly unappetising – if not a little clichéd. After all, didn’t Fast Food Nation already do a pretty good job of sticking the boot into McDonalds? However, this is only the starting point for Spurlock’s documentary as he investigates exactly what Ronald McDonald has to offer the planet. The result is one of the finest pictures of the year, documentary or otherwise.
The simple fact is that many people – Americans included – are royally annoyed at McDonald’s. Its habit of stamping out competition by buying out any restaurant or sandwich bar within the vicinity of one of its own outlets is despicable – and where does it stop? Lamentably, McDonald’s continue to spring up all over the world – there seems to be nowhere outside of Cuba that you can avoid Ronald McDonald’s grinning clown face and the famous golden arches. One wonders if the demise of Castro will be the long-awaited opportunity for McDonald’s to open a takeaway next to the Hemingway Café in old Havana.
Super Size Me also pinpoints that the food is undoubtedly dangerous – packed with fat and a high salt content, and playing havoc with your levels of cholesterol. Even the salad contains as many calories as your average Big Mac, and the McDonald’s ‘diet’ (which, shockingly, a lot of the people in the movie actually adhere to) is largely responsible for the rise of obesity throughout the States and the world. Pity the poor fool that the director meets on his travels who actually feasts on two Big Macs every day. As for what goes in the Chicken McNuggets… well, let’s just say you won’t be eating them again.
The documentary is not just focused on McDonald’s (although the food chain’s attempt to launch itself in hospitals is beyond despicable) but also on the lack of general nourishment throughout a selection of American schools. We see children being fed packets of crisps and pizza slices at schools which are under contract to typically insensitive corporations who think of money first and the welfare of the youngsters second. It is a truly horrible situation – the very nadir of capitalism. Coca-Cola machines in high schools and forty minutes for physical education a week… shocking indeed. In such an environment, when the study of health is not even highlighted on the school curriculum, is it any wonder that McDonald’s targets young children for its happy meals?
We also meet the President of Subway (the sandwich chain), and are shown some interviews with overweight girls weighed down with the pressure to look like the stick-thin models typical of glossy magazines. Though the points Spurlock raises are interesting, the director makes little of this aspect of his film, and comes slightly undone as a result. Is he criticising the publications that showcase slim, curvy models or is he instead pointing a finger at the fast food culture that keeps such figures hopelessly out of reach? He does not have an answer and, as a result, this part of Super Size Me is rather unfocused.
So what are the end results of Spurlock’s bizarre diet? Well he becomes ill – very ill indeed, in fact – and fails to get any answers from McDonald’s as to why they do not stock leaflets telling potential customers about the dangers of their junk food. Such scenes as Spurlock vomiting up an enormous cheeseburger that he has forced down his throat are grim, but also funny, and God bless some of the obese interviewees who, with an apparent straight face, indicate that they see no problem with their trips to McDonald’s. The irony is delicious.
Along with Fahrenheit 9/11, Spurlock’s film seems to indicate that things are very restless across the pond, and that the fiercest anti-corporate protestors no longer carry a guitar, but rather a film camera. The big question, therefore, is when someone in dear old Blighty is going to come along and give our less than noble climate a good going over. After all, within ten miles of my house there are three McDonalds looming large. Not a pretty picture, is it?