Fat City

The doc is in: Morgan Spurlock with one of his handlers in 'Super Size Me'
Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films

Toronto, Ontario--

It's pouring rain and chilly on the first weekend of the Hot Docs fest, and there's a line around the block for Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock's comic stunt-doc in which the director embarks on a monthlong all-McDonald's diet by way of proving that the Big Mac attack is no joke. Mind you, this isn't a line of people waiting to get into the theater or even waiting to buy tickets. (The screening has been sold out for days.) This is a line of people--about 200 or so--waiting for the chance to buy tickets in the unlikely event that festival pass holders don't fill the house first. Makes you wonder: Would there be this many consumers queued up in bad weather if Ronald M. was on the street handing out half-price Happy Meals?

Suffice it to say that Spurlock has touched a nerve--or at least a little stretch of fatty tissue in the body politic. "Super Size Me has taken off in ways I never even anticipated," says the immodest 33-year-old filmmaker to the still-wet but stoked crowd in the Bloor Cinema, building the McBuzz by mentioning the movie's upcoming release no fewer than three times in as many minutes. "Just a day before [the film] opens in theaters," Spurlock reports, "McDonald's is launching their Go Active Adult Happy Meals in 13,000 restaurants. You get a salad, a bottle of water, and the 'adult toy,' which is a pedometer--so you can count the steps from your car to the counter."

The audience roars with delight, not even fully aware as yet of how fortunate they are to have the Next Big Thing right here in front of them. Spurlock, you see, would have been in Toronto last night to introduce the Hot Docs premiere, but airport security wouldn't let him cross the northern border from Phoenix, where he had stopped for another quick promo op. The West Virginia native, appearing calculatedly goofy in a goatee and Hawaiian shirt, uses the mishap to crack another joke. "Since when do you need a passport to go to Canada?"

No doubt the director would agree with Ronald McDonald--and Michael Moore--that it doesn't hurt to look like a clown when peddling your product to the masses. In Super Size Me, our hero spews his Day Two drive-thru grub out the window of an SUV; discovers a curly hair in his McSundae; proves that, at least among first-graders, Ronald is more famous than Jesus (or John Lennon, presumably); and struggles to land an interview with the CEO whose corporation's cuisine has caused him to gain 17 pounds in 12 days. Meanwhile, his love-starved girlfriend--a vegan chef (ha!)--observes that all those unsaturated fats have apparently impeded the flow of blood to Spurlock's McNuggets.

This is fairly funny stuff--and important, too, particularly when Spurlock points the finger at corporations such as Sodexho for mass-distributing junk food to school lunchrooms. (Some of the Chaska High students with whom I saw Super Size Me seemed almost ready to petition the school board when we talked about the movie a few days later; others reported having gone straight from the screening to McDonald's.) Alas, the director, regardless of whether the blood flow to his higher regions had been restricted as well, doesn't appear all that thorough with his stats. Having remarked in voiceover that the number of overweight and obese Americans has doubled since 1980, he doesn't think to ask what else may have ballooned--the poverty rate, for example, or the number of corporate franchises in the country--since another clown named Ronald set up shop. (How ironic it is that a critic of the fast food industry would pack his product with sugar at the expense of substance.)

Among the other questions that Spurlock doesn't ask is whether his relatively little movie--opening locally in just one Uptown theater (across the street from McDonald's!)--will manage to reach the type of folks whom his camcorder captures largely from the waist down, its occasional shots of their faces digitally blurred in order to obscure the issue of consent. No doubt the bulk of these super-sizers lack the slumming filmmaker's close medical supervision, and Spurlock, who plays his repeated blood and cholesterol tests for big laughs as much as statistical evidence, doesn't include his awareness of de facto corporate food poisoning as being among his many privileges. Nor does he include a decent-size interview with even one of the Golden Arches' larger patrons, whose choices--along with their faces--therefore run the risk of remaining fuzzy to the giggling art-house audience.

"As much as it's a documentary," Spurlock informs the Hot Docs crowd, "Super Size Me is a comedy--a black comedy. All the sad things that happen that are also very funny are usually happening to me."

Usually, yeah. But how funny is it that the poor customers of McDonald's--which eliminated the super-size option six weeks after Spurlock's award-winning run at Sundance--are now getting even less for their money?

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