Fast-Food Frights

The popular, excellent documentary 'Super Size Me' waddles into town

Like me, you've probably spent a lot of time thinking, "If only someone would combine the insipid and dangerous stunts of Jackass with a mountain of legitimate scientific evidence and journalistic research to investigate, with hilarious results, the reasons why we are a nation of disgusting fat heifers." Well, think no more.

Morgan Spurlock, director, writer, star and guinea pig for Super Size Me, has answered your prayers. Starting with the premise that Americans are great, big, enormous porkers who can barely waddle down the streets without stopping off for a metric ton of cheese fries, Spurlock embarks on an experiment to give his documentary a narrative thread.

He decides, in short, to eat nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days. Smartly, before setting out on his delicious and life-threatening task, Spurlock visits some doctors, fitness experts and a dietician. It turns out that Spurlock is in remarkably good shape: He has low cholesterol, low body fat, the perfect body mass index, and the lungs and heart of an athlete. Plus, he's a pretty good-looking guy, and he owns some exotic underwear.

Then he begins eating at McDonald's, and only at McDonald's. He also tries to limit his physical activity to that of the typical, middle-managing American, which entails him moving a lot less than he's used to: The average office worker with a car walks less than two miles a day. The limitation on movement leaves Spurlock with the option of sitting down and eating Fishamajigs and McRibs while watching American Idol, or just swimming a few laps in a grease pit while bobbing for french fries. Shockingly, within a few weeks, he's put on 20 pounds, suffered impotence, shortness of breath, nausea, insomnia, depression and deliciousness.

This little experiment, while fun to watch, is really only a framing device for the more journalistic aspects of this documentary. What Spurlock wants to do is investigate what has come to be called an epidemic of obesity in our country. To me, this is the height of patriotism: telling your fellow Americans to get their asses in shape, and looking at how it is that we wound up so dumpy and with the fat rolling over the tops of our low-rise jeans and with, like, a big smear of mayonnaise on our collective faces. Spurlock asked what he could do for his country, and decided that offering it some dieting advice--and the medical evidence to back it up--was it.

In one of the most enlightening of these patriotic segments, he looks in on public school lunch programs, and finds that many have been taken over by purveyors of junk food. That means that our government is essentially fattening us up like the wicked witch in Hansel and Gretel.

In the very few schools where healthy food is served, it doesn't actually cost any more than the candy bars smothered in sausage gravy that are the staple meal in most lunchrooms. So why don't we, oh, I don't know, get all our school kids eating apples and high-fiber nutloaf?

And why is it that all of the sudden, in the last 20 years, the country has gotten so huge? And what's with all the fast food, and where can I find out if it's really good for me, and did McDonald's lawyers actually say, in their brief to the court, that it is general knowledge that McDonald's food is unhealthy and you shouldn't be eating it too regularly?

Yes, they did. As Spurlock grows fatter and more gassy, a gorgeous array of charts and graphs and split screens pop up to toss this info at us. Somehow, though, Spurlock keeps it all funny.

Which is what makes Super Size Me an excellent film. It's not like Spurlock thinks that eating nothing but McD's for a month is indicative of some real-world event: It's just a hilarious way of setting up his story. And he never gets preachy, not even when he's vomiting up his Big Mac Super Size Meal. Plus, he does his best to air opposing opinions, though no one at McDonald's will talk to him.

The only real flaw of Super Size Me is that it takes some cheap visual shots at fat people's large, wobbly bottoms. While fat jokes are, historically, hilarious (cf. De Magnus Frentis et Iocus Hilarious by noted fat man and dweller in Catholic heaven St. Thomas Aquinas), they can also be a bit mean, and Spurlock occasionally goes a little too far in that area. Still, that doesn't stop it from being funny.

My recommendation is to peel yourself out of your easy chair, wipe the crumbs off your pants and roll on down to see Super Size Me. It's way more fun and much funnier than the last three Farrelly brothers films, and it tosses some infotainment at you without making you get all thinky and stuff. In fact, its bite-size nuggets of juicy, funny factuality are like tiny morsels of metaphor for the whole fast-food plague: They're delicious and savory and make you want to greedily grab for more.