Big Mac attack

Culture | Movie Review

Issue: "Bush: Holding the line," June 5, 2004

Morgan Spurlock spends a month proving that it's possible to pickle one's liver on Big Macs in a new documentary now in theaters. In Super Size Me (unrated; contains some bad language, disturbing images, and frank discussion of sexual activity), Mr. Spurlock takes McDonald's to task, employing a Michael Moore approach to documentary filmmaking-crafting the film as a personal mission. Thankfully, Mr. Spurlock is a much more affable guide than Mr. Moore.

After describing America's growing obesity problem, Mr. Spurlock takes McDonald's as iconic of the cheap, unhealthy, heavily marketed food eaten by most Americans. He commits himself to eating, for 30 days, nothing but McDonald's food.

He tries everything on the menu at least once, and Super Sizes his meals when asked to do so at the counter. The results surprise even the team of doctors he assembled to track his progress. In 30 days, Mr. Spurlock gains 25 pounds, raises his cholesterol, becomes prone to dramatic mood swings, and loses his sex drive. The huge increase in fat intake also, as mentioned, begins to "pickle" his liver, producing the same results as a month of binge drinking.

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Mr. Spurlock's journey is alternately funny and disgusting, and it is likely to encourage viewers to watch what they eat. But as an indictment of McDonald's, the documentary is less convincing. As McDonald's points out, Mr. Spurlock's diet was way over the top. He consumed more than 5,000 calories a day, which means he had to eat quite a bit more than a standard Extra Value Meal at each sitting. He also dramatically limited his exercise level, compounding the diet's effects.

And, with all the talk about children as victims in the film, what comes through most clearly (although left unstated) is not the culpability of McDonald's but the culpability of hands-off, irresponsible parents.


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