Super Size Me (2004): Behind the Scenes and Critical Reception

Spurlock Morgan won the Best Director Award at the Sundance Film Fest for his documentary Super Size Me.

Released on May 7, 2004, it was later nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar.

Morgan conceived the idea for the film when he was at his parents’ house for Thanksgiving, and while watching TV saw a news story about a lawsuit brought against McDonalds by two teenage girls who blamed the fast-food chain for their obesity.

The film depicts an experiment he conducted in 2003, in which he ate three McDonald’s meals a day every day for 30 days, mandatory that he take the “super-size” option whenever it was offered, the end result being a diet with twice the food energy recommended by the USDA. Spurlock attempted to curtail his physical activity to match the exercise habits of the average American (he previously walked about 3 miles a day whereas the average American walks 1.5 miles). He underwent a full examination at the beginning of the experiment, and was monitored by different medical specialists.

He was of above-average health and fitness when he undertook the project, but his health declined: he gained 25 pounds, suffered severe liver dysfunction and developed symptoms of depression. Spurlock’s supervising physicians noted the effects caused by his high-fat, high-carb diet—one even comparing it to a case of severe binge alcoholism.

After the completion of the project, it took Spurlock 14 months to return to his normal weight of 185 pounds. His then-girlfriend and now wife, Alexandra Jamieson, took charge of his recovery with her “detox diet,” which was the basis for a later book, The Great American Detox Diet.

Criticism

Spurlock’s critics contend that his movie was a dishonest depiction of how fast food fits in with a regular diet. Spurlock deliberately ate 5,000 calories per day, more than twice what is recommended for a healthy diet. Biology professor Les Sayer has shown it is possible to eat a steady diet of McDonalds and not gain weight, though Sayer states he is not trying to recreate the Spurlock experiment and that his exercise level of 5–6 times a week is not typical of the average American.

Sean Burns of the Philadelphia Weekly describes the docu as “a steaming pile of junk science and fake journalism from Michael Moore-wannabe Morgan Spurlock.”

“Spurlock seems to find his own wisecracks hilarious. Abandoning any interesting questions raised in the opening reel, Super Size Me starts wagging its ever-fattening fingers at evil fast-food corporations.

“Spurlock torpedoes his own thesis: McDonald’s commercials saying that you should never eat anything besides their food, and I doubt many Americans actually live that way. So why hijack your movie with a jackass Tom Green stunt that invalidates any points you’re trying to make?  Because otherwise Super Size Me wouldn’t have such a catchy marketing hook.”

Spurlock pays lip service to serious issues, but his movie is self-promotion. Ironically enough, he’s made the docu equivalent of fast food.  Super Size Me is as childish and gimmicky as a Happy Meal, and nearly as indigestible.”

Quotes from Sean Burns negative but highly perceptive review.